National Alliance on Mental Illness
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What are Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT)?

The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) model is designed to improve the outcomes of interactions between law enforcement officers and individuals living with mental illness. When individuals living with mental illness are experiencing a mental health crisis or are acting out as a result of a mental illness, CIT works by diverting them to appropriate mental health services and supports rather than to the criminal justice system. CIT provides 40 hours of specialized training to law enforcement officers on preventing mental health crises and deescalating crises when they occur, while reducing the need for use of physical force.

However, CIT is not just a training program. CIT programs are only effective when law enforcement officers, mental health providers, individuals living with mental illness and their families and other community leaders collaborate to help ensure that when officers divert an individual away from the criminal justice system, the treatment system is willing and able to provide services and supports.

These partners review the services and supports available in their community, agree on strategies for meeting any resource needs and organize training for law enforcement officers. They also determine the best way to transfer individuals living with mental illness from police custody to the community mental health system and ensure that there are adequate services to do this effectively. People living with mental illness and their families are key partners in CIT and have a strong voice in decision-making, coordinating trainings and leading portions of the training.

To learn more about CIT, visit NAMI's CIT Resource Center.

Why do we Need CIT for Youth?

An alarming number of youth with mental health needs struggle in school and at home with undiagnosed and untreated conditions. Increasingly, these youth enter the juvenile justice system. We now know that 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have one or more psychiatric disorders and at least 20 percent of these youth live with a serious mental illness that significantly interferes with their day-to-day functioning.

There are many complex, multi-system breakdowns that have led to the criminalization of youth with mental health needs. One reason youth become unnecessarily entangled with the juvenile justice system is a lack of crisis intervention services in schools and communities. For some youth, contact with law enforcement is their first call for help and may be the first time they have the opportunity to get the help they need. For others, it is the last resort after exhausting all other options to accessing care.

Many schools have proven to be a pipeline into the juvenile justice system with school personnel contacting law enforcement officers when students engage in disruptive behaviors, including cases involving a mental health crisis. All too often, the opportunity for communities to intervene with these youth is lost-resulting in poor outcomes for everyone involved, including schools, law enforcement, youth and their families.

Fortunately, there is another way. With effective community partnerships and coordination, communities can responsibly support youth with mental health needs and their families-an outcome that benefits everyone involved. Recognizing this, communities across the country have begun to take action by expanding their CIT programs to address the specific needs of youth.

CIT for Youth provides training to law enforcement officers to help prevent mental health crises and to help de-escalate crises when they occur. At the same time a dynamic collaboration between law enforcement, families and youth, schools, community mental health centers and child-serving agencies ensures that youth in a mental health crisis are identified and referred to appropriate mental health services and supports rather than thrust into the courts and juvenile justice system.

CIT for Youth provides an important opportunity for communities to come together to ensure the safety and well-being of all youth, including those with mental health needs. It promises to improve the lives of youth and to support communities struggling to meet the needs of youth with mental health needs.