MEMPHIS, Tennessee — Under federal scrutiny for the way it treats children charged with crimes, the Juvenile Court in Memphis and Shelby County now employs a full-time mental health professional to help kids deal with stress and anxiety of being in detention.
The Commercial Appeal reports (http://bit.ly/VHih7P) that Makedra Ivy, a licensed master's-level social worker, is on site for eight hours a day, five days a week, with an additional staff member at the facility for four hours every Saturday and Sunday.
Out of the roughly 47 kids who are brought into custody each month, Ivy will get about 30 visits — some kids will visit multiple times. Her services range from teaching impulse control or anger management to helping kids cope with depression and suicidal thoughts.
The U.S. Department of Justice in 2012 called for numerous reforms at Juvenile Court, many of them focused on the disparate treatment of minorities facing transfer to adult court.
Changes started happening in August 2013, when the court's health care budget jumped from $100,000 to $800,000 annually, thanks to a $700,000 contribution from the Shelby County Commission. Before that, there was no round-the-clock medical staff on site at the juvenile detention facility.
Medical services were contracted to a local pediatrician and a nurse who may have been on site at the detention center for only a few hours a day.
A nurse is now on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to Dini Malone, the detention center's administrative services director.
Children who want or attempt to hurt themselves will be seen by the on-site staff member within 24 hours.
"It's been a tremendous step forward," Malone said.
A new policy implemented in April prohibits the detention center from even accepting a child brought in by law enforcement if, during an initial suicide screening, the child is found to be a threat to himself or herself. They are immediately sent to a hospital for more urgent assistance.
"When you're working with juveniles, they're very fragile," Ivy said. "Their attitudes change at the drop of a hat."