Connecting the Juvenile Drug Treatment Court Philosophy to Practice

Objective 1: Focus the JDTC philosophy and practice on effectively addressing substance use and criminogenic needs to decrease future offending and substance use and increase positive outcomes.

Written by Martha-Elin Blomquist, Ph.D., Site Manager, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

Distinguishing features of an effective juvenile drug treatment court (JDTC) or an effective JDTC philosophy consist of being informed by adolescent development, using individualized case planning geared toward mobilizing and supporting youth’s goals and motivation for behavior change, and engaging family members in supporting change. They are essential to decreasing future offending and substance use and increasing positive outcomes. In addition, grounding a JDTC’s philosophy for addressing substance use in a harm reduction framework, rather than abstinence-only, is also key to being effective and research-informed.

Incorporating harm reduction into your JDTC’s philosophy offers many benefits. It is consistent with the developmental lens that team members should use for understanding substance use, motivating behavior change, and helping participants acquire skills and the ability to engage in healthy decision making. Harm reduction appreciates that a youth’s relationship with substances and the patterns of use are individual. It emphasizes working with a youth’s goals and aspirations as the basis for change, rather than imposing the goals and mandates of adult figures. Harm reduction does not insist on the perfection associated with abstinence. It recognizes that adolescents develop through incremental change (with progress not always occurring in a linear fashion).

Harm reduction also invites family engagement. It gives family members a place at the table for determining goals, services, the yardsticks by which progress toward change may be measured, and expectations about responses to change that will be motivating and helpful.

In addition, from an outcomes perspective, harm reduction gives JDTC teams a larger view of what should be counted. Such things as the number of days in school, school credits recovered, meals eaten together as a family, new interests and hobbies explored, life skills practiced, and job applications completed in a month are examples of measurable behavior change. All relate to the aspects of healthy adolescent development (educational success, improved family functioning, healthy relationships, employment stability, and personal wellbeing), which the Juvenile Drug Treatment Court Guidelines (Guidelines) support achieving as outcomes. Click here to view the JDTC map and outcomes.

Short-Term Actions

Have your JDTC team review the philosophy, values, mission, and goals that underlie your current program. Critically discuss how they align with the Guidelines’ emphasis on being informed by adolescent development, focus on family involvement (click here for a resource on family engagement), and take a harm reduction approach to substance use (click here for tips on motivational techniques). Identify the values and philosophy that team members can commit to that will bring your practices into closer alignment with the Guidelines on these matters.

Long-Term Actions

To tie program goals to specific youth behavior, have the JDTC team select two or three aspects of healthy adolescent development from the five noted in the Guidelines outcomes to focus on.  Generate a list of concrete behaviors and activities to serve as indicators of each. Create a plan for collecting data to track, measure, and report on JDTC participant progress with these behaviors.

Click below to link to additional resources