Mental health support for court-involved youth
New resources provide guidance for judges, court staff to better support mental health needs of youth, families

Report cover with young smiling latina

All children deserve to be in supportive, nurturing environments that allow them to grow into vibrant and healthy adults. This doesn't stop when a young person becomes involved in the court system.

The National Center for Youth Law's newly published Judicial Bench Cards — developed in partnership with the Judicial Council of California — aim to ensure that court systems uplift and integrate practices that support the mental health and well-being of youth and families.

The Judicial Bench Cards, designed for use by judges and court staff, contain tools and information focused on cultivating a culture of care. Each type of court — juvenile court, family court, probate court — plays a specific role in supporting the mental health needs of youth, and the bench cards outline these roles and specific steps that each level of staff can and should take to fulfill these critical obligations.

The bench cards, which are free to access, highlight overarching principles to support positive mental health and well-being. These include:

  • Engaging and centering youth;
  • Safeguarding privacy;
  • Being strength-based and not deficit-based;
  • Recognizing youth and their family members as experts on themselves;
  • Avoiding making assumptions about behaviors;
  • Ensuring standards of care; and
  • Using trauma-informed and culturally responsive practices.

The cards also provide tips for interacting with young people in a courtroom setting, including language that supports positive mental health; information to help youth access community-based mental health services and supports; guidance to assist young people navigating transitions; and considerations for supporting youth at different ages and stages of the court system.