With a newly granted $1.29 million, the University of Arizona's Southwest Institute for Research on Women will conduct a multi-year evaluation of U.S. juvenile drug courts that are implementing the national program, Reclaiming Futures.
The institute, SIROW, will lead the evaluation of programs that have adopted the combined Juvenile Drug Courts/Reclaiming Futures model to improve alcohol and drug treatment for teenagers. Though an interagency agreement with the Library of Congress, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, or OJJDP, is funding the research.
"Across the U.S., there are approximately 93,000 young people in juvenile justice facilities. This is a population of youth that experience high rates of trauma, substance abuse and mental-health problems," said Alison Greene, an associate research social scientist for SIROW and co-principal investigator on the grant.
"Even though experts are increasingly recognizing the co-occurrence of substance use and mental-health problems, very few services focus on or treat more than one of these issues,” Greene said. "There is a critical need to identify effective models that address co-occurring disorders to help justice-involved youth."
For the next three to four years, SIROW will study nine Juvenile Drug Courts/Reclaiming Futures programs, which target nonviolent, substance-abusing youth.
"We know that with kids involved in criminal acts and substance abuse, the cost of treatments for them is expensive," said Sally Stevens, SIROW's executive director and principal investigator on the grant. "But in order to cut costs and improve treatments, we need to know what is working, not assume we know, to promote what works at a level that is local, statewide and national."
Previous studies have been limited, and the SIROW evaluation is "the first to focus on the impact of the combined models,” Stevens said.
The models were born out of a partnership formed in 2009 among OJJDP, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“Nearly 490 juvenile drug courts exist nationally, along with others being planned,” Stevens said. Among them are about 12 courts that have adopted the Reclaiming Futures model, a three-pronged integration of treatment, community systems reforms and community engagement through evidence-based practices.
SIROW is charged with the objective to:
Assess the combined models, focusing on performance, efficiency and cost effectiveness
Improve what is known about the Juvenile Drug Courts/Reclaiming Futures model
Analyze the efforts of the Juvenile Drug Courts/Reclaiming Futures model, such as training approaches and services to participants
Conduct case studies
Determine where and how the models may be replicated
Evaluate the potential for replicating these models
One of the main concerns driving the need for such an evaluation and improved policy and practices are the public-health concerns, and also the health, safety and wellness of the youth and members of their families.
Thus, SIROW will evaluate the Juvenile Drug Court/Reclaiming Futures impact on the lives of youth, determining improvements in social engagement and also emotional and mental health, Stevens said.
"It's a very promising approach," Stevens said. "We want to know if it might work better for some communities, certain kids and some families. So we'll be teasing out what might be some of the barriers to implementation."
Preliminary findings suggest that the integrated nature of Reclaiming Futures Model is indeed effective, said Monica Davis, SIROW's evaluation coordiantor. For the evalution, SIROW will focus on programs located in several states across the country.
"Research suggests that programs that incorporate community involvement favorably impact the likelihood of relapse and recidivism. A young person is less likely to use substances when he or she is supported by and included in the community," Davis said.
"However, it is important to invest in program evaluation at this scale to determine how the implementation of these models actually occurs and what factors contribute to improved outcome," Davis added. "It is important also to determine if this implementation is cost-effective and to what degree the implementation of these models can be replicated."
Thus, the impact of SIROW's evaluation of the program could be far-reaching.
The Native American and Research and Training Center at the UA is a partner on the evaluation and will facilitate SIROW's interactions with the Cherokee Nation.
Another partner, Chestnut Health Systems, or CHS, will allow for more involved comparative analyses. CHS has access to more than 16,000 records of youth who have been involved with various other federally funded substance abuse treatment programs. Thus, researchers will be able to compare the Reclaiming Futures model with other programs.
Also, SIROW is partnering with Carnevale Associates, LLC based in Washington, D.C. The firm specializes on the creation of policy-oriented data related to drugs and crime.
"The number of adolescents in juvenile justice facilities is high. Additionally, there is a significant unmet need for adolescent substance abuse treatment," Greene said, adding that an estimated 1.8 million adolescents in the U.S. are in need of treatment for alcohol and other drug use, but less than 10 percent of the population is actually treated.
"This multi-site, national evaluation SIROW is conducting has the potential to inform policy and practice as it relates to adolescents receiving these much-needed services that are implemented utilizing a systems-level approach," Greene said.
"This was a competitive process, and we are pleased to be tasked with such an important undertaking," she also said. "SIROW researchers working on this national, cross-site evaluation are dedicating much effort and expertise in implementing our proposed design, collaborating with our research partners, and working with the Juvenile Drug Courts/Reclaiming Futures sites to conduct an independent evaluation of the combined effects of two interventions."