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Improve Diversion for Youth with Behavioral Health Disorders

Will yours be one of five states selected to receive expert technical assistance to help young people? You won't know if you don't apply.

Applications are being accepted for Improving Diversion Policies and Programs for Justice-Involved Youth with Behavioral Health Disorders: An Integrated Policy Academy-Action Network Initiative, made possible with support from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Selected states will convene core teams of senior-level officials at the state and local levels to implement a school-based or probation-intake diversion program for youth with behavioral health disorders. This work will emphasize:

  • Decreasing the unnecessary involvement of youth with behavioral health problems in the justice system
  • Using research-based screening and assessment practices
  • Recognizing the important role of evidence-based and trauma-informed practice and treatment
  • Increasing collaboration among stakeholders to facilitate access to community treatment and services
  • Reducing the overrepresentation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system

The full announcement and application materials are available for download at Applications will be accepted through Friday, February 28, 2014. 

OJJDP Relaunches Updated Model Programs Guide

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has relaunched its Model Programs Guide (MPG), an online resource of more than 180 evidence-based prevention, intervention, and reentry programs for juvenile justice practitioners, policymakers, and communities.

MPG now uses the Office of Justice Programs’ program review process and includes programs addressing a variety of topics, including child victimization, substance abuse, youth violence, mental health and trauma, and gang activity. In addition to providing program profiles, MPG offers information on program implementation, literature reviews, and resource links. Via the website:

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s (OJJDP’s) Model Programs Guide (MPG) contains information about evidence-based juvenile justice and youth prevention, intervention, and reentry programs. It is a resource for practitioners and communities about what works, what is promising, and what does not work in juvenile justice, delinquency prevention, and child protection and safety.

MPG uses expert study reviewers and’s program review process, scoring instrument, and evidence ratings. The two sites also share a common database of juvenile-related programs.

New Webinar Series, Girls Matter!, Addresses Adolescent Girls’ Behavioral Health

It's no secret that adolescence is a time of transition with unique challenges and pressures for both girls and boys. The Girls Matter! webinar series aims to turn the attention to how these challenges and pressures affect adolescent girls. One in four adolescent girls experiences a behavioral health problem, but research shows a gap in services, support, and important behavioral health care for adolescent girls—the very tools that help girls successfully transition into adulthood.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is launching Girls Matter! in an effort to bridge the gap between services, support and health care for adolescent girls with behavioral problems by providing professionals with information about the critical needs of girls today. The six-part series features professionals from multiple fields and specialties who share a passion for helping teen girls thrive. Continuing Education Hours NAADAC and NBCC CEHs are available through the ATTC Network Coordinating Office.

Tribal Juvenile Justice Outdated; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Big Difference Between Juvenile, Adult Courts (
    If the teenager accused of stabbing to death her 11-year-old half-sister is charged as a juvenile and eventually found guilty, she could serve as little as seven years in detention. If she's charged with murder as an adult and convicted, she could serve as many as 60. That's just one of the differences in how the rules can differ for young people accused of serious crimes.
  • Tribal Juvenile Justice Outdated (
    Although Native Americans make up little more than 1 percent of the nation’s population, a 10-year study found that at any given time, 43 percent to 60 percent of juveniles held in federal custody were Native Americans, a wildly disproportionate number.
  • Center for Health Program Management Announces Implementation of $4.5 Million Initiative to Transform California's Juvenile Justice Systems (
    he Center for Health Program Management, and funding partners Sierra Health Foundation, The California Endowment and The California Wellness Foundation announced that $1.6 million in grant funding has been awarded to four counties to implement an innovative approach to juvenile justice reform known as the Positive Youth Justice Initiative.

Status Offending Youth: Report Stresses Assistance Over Prosecution

The Vera Institute of Justice Status Offense Reform Center recently released From Courts to Communities: The Right Response to Truancy, Running Away and Other Status Offenses, a white paper emphasizing assistance over prosecution for status offending youth. 

According to Vera, "Youth who run away from home, routinely skip school, and engage in other risky behaviors that are prohibited precisely because of their young age, are acting out in ways that should concern the adults in their lives. They need appropriate attention—but not from the juvenile justice system."

To avoid deeper involvement in the system, Vera suggests an effective community-based response that features:

1. Diversion from court. Keeping kids out of court requires having mechanisms in place that actively steer families away from the juvenile justice system and toward community-based services.

2. An immediate response. Families trying to cope with behaviors that are considered status offenses may need assistance right away from trained professionals who can work with them, often in their home, to de-escalate the situation. In some cases, families also benefit from a cool-down period in which the young person spends a few nights outside of the home in a respite center.

3. A triage process. Through careful screening and assessment, effective systems identify needs and tailor services accordingly. Some families require only brief and minimal intervention—a caring adult to listen and help the family navigate the issues at hand. At the other end of the spectrum are families that need intensive and ongoing support and services to resolve problems.

4. Services that are accessible and effective. Easy access is key. If services are far away, alienating, costly, or otherwise difficult to use, families may opt out before they can meaningfully address their needs. Equally important, local services must engage the entire family, not just the youth, and be proven to work based on objective evidence.

5. Internal assessment. Regardless of how well new practices are designed and implemented, there are bound to be some that run more smoothly than others, at least at first. Monitoring outcomes and adjusting practices as needed are essential to be effective and also to sustain support for new practices.

Learn more about communities that have successfully implemented community-based responses by accessing the full white paper for free on

Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide

Earlier this month, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), published a guide detailing a drug abuse approach that goes way beyond "Just Say No!" The guide, "Presents research-based principles of adolescent substance use disorder treatment; covers treatment for a variety of drugs including, illicit and prescription drugs, alcohol, and tobacco; presents settings and evidence-based approaches unique to treating adolescents." Via the report:

People are most likely to begin abusing drugs—including tobacco, alcohol, and illegal and prescription drugs—during adolescence and young adulthood.

By the time they are seniors, almost 70 percent of high school students will have tried alcohol, half will have taken an illegal drug, nearly 40 percent will have smoked a cigarette, and more than 20 percent will have used a prescription drug for a nonmedical purpose.1 There are many reasons adolescents use these substances, including the desire for new experiences, an attempt to deal with problems or perform better in school, and simple peer pressure. Adolescents are “biologically wired” to seek new experiences and take risks, as well as to carve out their own identity. Trying drugs may fulfill all of these normal developmental drives, but in an unhealthy way that can have very serious long-term consequences.

Many factors influence whether an adolescent tries drugs, including the availability of drugs within the neighborhood, community, and school and whether the adolescent’s friends are using them. The family environment is also important: Violence, physical or emotional abuse, mental illness, or drug use in the household increase the likelihood an adolescent will use drugs. Finally, an adolescent’s inherited genetic vulnerability; personality traits like poor impulse control or a high need for excitement; mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or ADHD; and beliefs such as that drugs are “cool” or harmless make it more likely that an adolescent will use drugs.

Get the full publication on >>

Opportunity Board Roundup: Juvenile Justice Grants, Jobs, Webinars and Events

Below you'll find a selection of the latest grants, jobs, webinars and events posted to our Opportunity Board. Please share the Reclaiming Futures Opportunity Board with your colleagues in the juvenile justice, adolescent substance abuse and teen mental health areas. It's free to browse and post!



Crime and Punishment with Psychologist Evan Elkin

Comedian Jake Johannsen recently got serious (well, a little more serious than usual) with psychologist Evan Elkin during his Jakethis podcast. The two sat down and talked about the juvenile justice system, and problems with how we handle crime and punishment. The podcast is embedded below for your listening pleasure. Jump to the 18 minute mark for the discussion of the juvenile justice system.  

When Children Become Criminals; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Juveniles Facing Lifelong Terms Despite Rulings (The New York Times)
    In decisions widely hailed as milestones, the United States Supreme Court in 2010 and 2012 acted to curtail the use of mandatory life sentences for juveniles, accepting the argument that children, even those who are convicted of murder, are less culpable than adults and usually deserve a chance at redemption.
  • Juvenile Justice Debate Continues As Teen Serves 70 Year Sentence (
    Is a 70 year sentence without parole for a 14-year-old effectively the same as life in prison? Jacksonville’s Shimeek Gridine is a plaintiff in a lawsuit before the Florida Supreme Court that will decide whether his harsh sentence violates the federal constitution.
  • When Children Become Criminals (The New York Times)
    New York is one of two states, the other being North Carolina, in which 16-year-olds are automatically tried as adults. This is the case despite overwhelming evidence that sending children into adult courts, rather than the juvenile justice system, needlessly destroys lives and further endangers the public by turning nonviolent youngsters into hardened criminals.