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Reducing Effects of Childhood Trauma Tied to SD's Juvenile-Justice Efforts


Thursday, January 12, 2023   

South Dakota has been looking at ways to improve the state's juvenile-justice system. Recommendations could be considered in the new legislative session, with mental health serving as one of the overarching themes.

Proposed solutions began to surface in recent months following the work of a task force last summer. One idea calls on the state to set aside $20 million to fund scholarships for those considering the mental-health field.

State Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt - R-Sioux Falls - served on the committee and said the state needs to address its shortage of counselors.

She said intervention could help troubled youth overcome Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACES.

"Ninety percent of juvenile detainees reported experiencing one or more traumatic event," said Rehfeldt. "So, how that really links together is that when we have these ACES happen to kids - we're intervening and then in the long term, hopefully, prevent these kids from entering into the juvenile-justice system."

Rehfeldt, also a board member for the Center for the Prevention of Child Maltreatment, said adding licensed counselors is vital because the wait time to meet with a provider is four to six weeks.

The assistant majority leader acknowledged that while South Dakota has a budget surplus, there will be a lot of competing interests for state funding.

Another item that came from the committee was a resolution to continue researching childhood mental health and services available to kids across the state.

Rehfeldt said they've barely scratched the surface. For example, she said educators are being asked to juggle a lot with more students showing a need for mental-health intervention in a school setting.

"Not that they don't want to help kids when they can," said Rehfeldt, "but when they're bogged down with all of those mental-health needs, it's really hard to be an effective teacher and then also have your kids in your classroom be effective learners."

She said the state needs to strike a balance in helping kids in and out of school when they're in need of counseling while making sure staff members aren't vulnerable to burnout.

Researchers who provided testimony suggest delaying action could create more ripple effects, with nearly 20% of South Dakota children having two or more Adverse Childhood Experiences.

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