Date of Conferral



Doctor of Social Work (DSW)


Social Work


Valerie Quarles


AbstractA large number of minority youths placed in the juvenile justice system across the United States have mental health disorders. Most of these youths do not receive mental health services or support within the system, which increases risk factors such as undiagnosed and untreated mental illness and adverse outcomes such as recidivism. This action research sought to uncover whether mental health disparities in social work practice in the juvenile justice system were due to race and ethnicity and asked social workers to recommend strategies to improve mental health availability, access, and provision. Participants in the study were social workers who had worked with minority youth offenders in the Allegheny County juvenile justice system in Pennsylvania for at least two years. The study’s practice-focused research questions centered on two considerations; whether minority youth face challenges when seeking mental health services in the juvenile justice system. (b) Whether there are racial and ethnic differences in clinical practice for minority youth offenders. Ecological systems theory was used, which reflected micro (individual), mezzo (group), and macro (systemic) levels. The data collection method was ten semi-structured questions administered to the eight social workers who participated in a focus group. Two major themes emerged from the data analysis; barriers in mental health service provisions are caused by racial and ethnic bias in clinical practice. Findings suggest there needs to be cultural and ethnic diversity training for Caucasian social workers to improve mental health services for minority youth offenders. The underlying issues in the findings could provide insight into social work practice leading to positive social change.