Heavy Focus on Consecutive Clean Days

Written by Wendy Schiller

Currently, many juvenile drug courts rely heavily on consecutive number of clean days as one measure of success for youth. Indeed, this consecutive number often becomes the main focus for JDC teams when determining if the youth can advance in their phase or even graduate from the program. The fact of the matter is there are many measures of success that are far better at determining success in the program – progress on attainable goals, treatment attendance and engagement, building life skills, increased family or school connectedness, etc.

To make matters worse, many JDC teams “reset the clock when a youth has a positive urine analysis (UA). For example, a JDC might require JDC youth to be clean for 60 consecutive days before being eligible to advance to the next phase. However, at day number 40, the youth might test positive for alcohol or marijuana. In many cases, the team would set the clock back to day one for that youth or even send them back a phase.

The problem with this practice is that it ignores all of the youth’s success for the last 40 days. This setback also overlooks progress in other areas of the program and serves to lengthen the time in each phase.

Stop it! This is one of the 7 Deadly Sins!

Short-Term Solution:

Instead of resetting the clock, simply suspend time for the youth until they provide the team with a negative drug test. So, on day 40 the young person provided a positive drug test and on day 45 provided a negative drug test...they now have 41 days clean.

Long-Term Solution:

JDC teams should broaden their definition of success for the youth and base that success on progress made on goals and activities set forth in their integrated case plans. It is important to understand the reasons why JDCs drug test at all, which is not to catch them doing something wrong. We drug test so we can understand their substance use in order to effectively insert a treatment response to keep the youth safe and moving toward healthy life choices.