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– Telehealth may be improving clinical outcomes, reducing costs and easing provider stress, but it’s also giving South Dakota state officials something else to smile about: the growing success rate of the state’s juvenile diversion program.

According to a recent report from the South Dakota Juvenile Justice Oversight Council, a connected health platform has helped state corrections officials connect more at-risk youths with clinical and behavioral health services. This, in turn, has boosted the success rate of the state’s diversion program from 77 percent in 2018 to almost 84 percent in 2019.

“One of our largest challenges was just the geography of our state … and telehealth has been a way to overcome some of that distance,” Greg Sattizahn, chairman of the oversight council and state court administrator for the South Dakota Unified Judicial System, recently told the Daily Republic.

“When you had those judges, law enforcement and probation (officers) that were dealing with youth in a very rural area, they couldn’t necessarily bring the services to that area, so by default you would bring the kid to the services, which would mean you’re going from Gettysburg to Rapid City, or you’re going from Faulkton to Sioux Falls,” he added.

While telehealth has long been seen as a means of improving access to care underserved populations, few thought to take this particular population into account. But as Sattizahn and other state officials have found, youths who have run afoul of the law in South Dakota have a better chance of getting back on track if they get the care they need.

In many cases, these youths have gotten into trouble because of alcohol or drug use or behavioral health issues, such as stress or anger management. Identifying those issues early and addressing them through primary care or counseling increases the chances of better health in the long term – and a better chance of steering clear of jail.

By making those services available online, the chances are better that the youths and their family members will use them.

“Every county is very different in their approach, just because each community is so different,” Katie Buschbach, Davison County’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) coordinator, told the state news service. “Right now, the approach that we’re taking is mostly online. And that way, it really helps the kids be able to be mobile. They don’t have to be connected to me. They don’t have to come and check in all the time. They can do their program online at their own pace, and that seems to really work for our kids, just because a lot of our kids are active in pro-social activities, or they’re farm kids or they live out of town.”

Source: Can Telehealth Help States Steer Kids Away From A Life of Crime?