Juvenile Justice System Can Help Coordinate Substance Abuse Treatment Services

The National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ) developed a project to track substance abuse assessment, treatment and aftercare services within the juvenile justice system. NCJJ is the research arm of the National Council of Family and Juvenile Court Judges (in Reno, Nev.), which seeks to serve children by improving juvenile and family courts.

To develop a baseline survey instrument that would provide this information about juvenile courts and probation agencies, NCJJ organized an expert panel meeting entitled "Force Field Analysis Workshop." Seventeen representatives of juvenile probation, drug courts, and alcohol and drug treatment programs attended the meeting held in Pittsburgh, Pa., April 17–18, 2001.

Participants identified critical issues related to developing effective linkages between the juvenile courts and alcohol and drug treatment networks, including forces that drive the linkages—such as judicial leadership and public safety—and those that restrain them—such as a lack of funding and competence in substance abuse issues. Based on the panel's findings, NCJJ designed a 41-question survey with 123 items in categories that included:

  • substance abuse screening and assessment practices
  • availability and accessibility of substance abuse treatment services
  • factors that influence probation department decisions to refer youth to treatment
  • probation department characteristics.

NCJJ mailed the survey to chief juvenile probation officers, or their equivalent, representing 329 counties; this included all counties with a population of one million or more, a random sampling of smaller counties and an oversampling of those with populations from 250,000 to 999,999 people. The response rate was 70 percent (or 231 people).

Key Findings

  • Probation departments do not screen all youths; they are most likely to screen those who are referred to juvenile court on a drug-related charge or have a known history of substance abuse.

  • Respondents perceive alcohol, marijuana and cocaine as the drugs most commonly abused by those youths involved with juvenile courts.

  • Respondents perceive available treatment resources as age-appropriate and individualized, but not as sensitive to culture, gender or to meeting the multiple needs of the youths.

  • Early intervention and outpatient services are more likely than inpatient services to accept, be affordable and have sufficient treatment slots for those youths involved with juvenile courts.

  • Respondents do not perceive parental involvement or community support as common features of substance abuse treatment for court-involved youth.

The survey also suggested a number of recommendations for juvenile courts in participating successfully in integrated substance abuse treatment networks. Among them are:

  • The screening of all juveniles for alcohol and drug abuse upon referral.
  • The encouragement of partnerships and collaboration by training staff about available treatment and intervention options.
  • Having juvenile court, parental and community support.
  • Individualizing treatment services.
  • Making services accessible and affordable for those youths involved with juvenile courts.

The grantee organization detailed the results of the project in a report prepared for RWJF entitled National Survey of Chief Juvenile Probation Officers: Integrated Substance Abuse Treatment Networks. NCJJ hopes to conduct a similar survey in the future.