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Reclaiming Futures Receives $2M to Pilot Innovative Youth Intervention Program
Reclaiming Futures Receives $2M to Pilot Innovative Youth Intervention Program


Founded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2000 and headquartered in the Regional Research Institute (RRI) at PSU, Reclaiming Futures is an initiative with the goal of helping justice-involved youth with mental health and substance abuse disorders change their direction by working with communities to affect positive changes in the form of integrated, community-based substance abuse and mental health interventions in juvenile justice settings.

Now in its 14th year, the Reclaiming Futures model has been implemented by 39 communities in 18 states, helping thousands of vulnerable and at-risk youths receive the treatment they need to turn their lives around and the continued support of caring communities that is critical to their success after exiting the juvenile justice system.

Recently, Reclaiming Futures received a grant of $2M from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation to pilot an innovative program that aims to promote positive outcomes for young people at risk of substance abuse problems who are involved in juvenile justice systems. Five hundred young people, one hundred each from five Reclaiming Futures sites, will have the opportunity to participate in this first of its kind adaption of a Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) program for youth in juvenile justice settings.

According to Jim Carlton, Deputy Director of Reclaiming Futures, SBIRT is an intervention method many adults may have experienced without their knowledge. SBIRT is used frequently in doctor’s offices to identify and refer to treatment individuals with substance abuse problems. If you’ve ever been asked by a doctor during an appointment about your alcohol consumption (how much you drink and how often), then you’ve experienced at least a portion of a SBIRT intervention.

“While interventions like this are common in adult populations,” said Susan Richardson, National Executive Director of Reclaiming Futures, “this kind of intervention hasn’t been attempted in the juvenile justice setting. We want to see youth at risk of developing substance abuse problems getting the right treatment, at the right time and in the right place. Reaching more low to moderate risk youth earlier is why we’re developing and piloting the SBIRT program.”

While the Reclaiming Futures model serves at risk youths who have entered the juvenile justice system, the SBIRT pilot is an “up river” program with the aim of reaching youths with potential substance abuse problems before they become fully engaged in the system. As Richardson explained, Reclaiming Futures will develop the SBIRT pilot program to identify and assess the potential for substance abuse in three groups of justice involved young people: status offenders—e.g. those who have not committed a crime, but may have come to the attention of the courts due to behavioral issues at home, in school, or elsewhere; youths in “Informal Adjustment” programs in which a prosecutor or officer of the court works with the probation department to adjust punishments (e.g. from formal probation to community service); and youths who have entered the system but are not eligible for court. 

At the core of the pilot SBIRT program for justice involved youth will be an intervention developed by Evan Elkin, a trained psychologist, researcher, Advising Consultant for Reclaiming Futures, and an expert in developing, implementing, and assessing innovative programs in the fields of public health, addiction, and education.

According to Richardson, the design of the three to five session intervention is based on Motivational Interviewing (MI). As a therapeutic technique, MI has been shown effective in the treatment of addiction and substance abuse since it came into prominence in the early 1980.

The intervention will consist of supportive counseling and conversation intended to get youth thinking and talking about how substance abuse is affecting their life and goals. 

“It’s about meeting the youth where they are,” Carlton said. “The idea is to get a dialogue going and build a relationship to help them figure out where in their lives substance abuse might be affecting them in a negative way and then to naturally come to a place in their own mind where they’re thinking about taking a different path.

“Often times, for a lot of these young people, a full treatment program is much more than they need. And putting them into one could have unintended negative consequences. Rather than going to the opposite extreme and doing nothing, this program will provide them with a way to think and talk about their lives and maybe change the trajectory they’re on so they don’t take that next step and end up addicted or in the system.”

With the support of the Hilton Foundation, an organization dedicated to the serving the world’s disadvantaged and vulnerable populations for the past 70 years, Reclaiming Futures will design, implement, and evaluate this innovative approach with SBIRT at three existing sites, gathering data on the outcomes for young participants and assessing processes of implementation of the new program. The Hilton Foundation award also funds the establishment of two new Reclaiming Futures sites that will also take part in the study. The addition of the new Reclaiming Futures sites brings the number of the Reclaiming Futures network of communities up to 41; that’s 41 sites in which the community and the juvenile justice system will have come together to provide treatment and lasting support for young people with substance abuse and mental health issues. With the support of the Hilton Foundation, Reclaiming Futures has the opportunity to pilot a program that may provide a new set of tools to increase its and other organizations’ capacity to identify at risk youth and help those young people make positive life changes they can carry with them as they transition into adulthood.

Authored by Shaun McGillis
Posted October 23, 2014