LINKS: Managing mental health in the Perth Children’s Court, a collaborative approach.

Ms Mahi Weiss1, Mr  Andrew MacDonald1

1Department Of Justice, Perth, Australia

In 2009/2010 2469 youth appeared before the Perth Children’s Court on criminal matters.  Based on national data, it was hypothesised that approximately 26% of these youth are likely to have mental health concerns.  A significant gap in mental health services for youth was identified.

In 2013 LINKS was established to meet this need. Links, is a community-based multi-disciplinary, multi-agency referral service comprised of Clinicians from Department of Justice and Health and Justice and Support Co-ordinators from a non-government provider (Outcare).    LINKS provides assistance to the Perth Children’s Court to improve co-ordination and communication between the criminal justice system, judiciary and community-based mental health services.  LINKS promotes early assessment and intervention that addresses a young person’s mental health and psycho-social needs.

Engagement with LINKS is voluntary and occurs parallel to Court processes. LINKS takes referrals from multiple sources including Magistrates, lawyers’ custody, bail services and self-referral.

Evaluation of the LINKS program has demonstrated that:

             86% of cases referred to Links received a formal mental health assessment, equating to approximately 305 assessments per year.

             57% of young people referred to Links had no history with public mental health services and 92% were not currently engaged with a mental health service.

             Of those who are case managed by Links, 88% experience clinical improvement and 77% are deemed to be at reduced risk of causing harm to themselves or others after engaging with Links.

             82% of cases had at least one identified need met by the closure date.


Mahi Weiss has worked as a Clinical Psychologist in Youth Justice for the WA Department of Justice for nine years and is currently in the role of Team Leader for the Links Youth Mental Health Support Program.  Prior to this she worked as a Youth Justice Officer since 2005 giving her over 13 years’ experience working with young people, and their families, who display violent and anti-social behaviour.  She has extensive experience working in a custodial setting and is aware of the challenges in managing mental health issues in a correctional setting.  Mahi has a particular interest in the impact of trauma on youth in the correctional setting.  She has provided numerous expert witness reports to the Courts’ including pre-sentence reports and those addressing fitness to stand trial, and has provided training on working with young people in a forensic context at a Departmental-level.