Blog: Reclaiming Futures

PODCAST: Larry Henry and Susan Richardson Have a Heart-to-Heart

Larry Henry of Substance Abuse 411 talks with National Executive Director Susan Richardson about how Reclaiming Futures can help in your community.

In this podcast, Larry asks Susan Richardson about the Reclaiming Futures model and how it unites juvenile courts, probation, adolescent substance abuse treatment, and the community to reclaim youth.
Substance Abuse 411 was created because of Larry's personal family experience with substance abuse and the search for answers to so many unanswered questions.
Together, they discuss ways to improve drug and alcohol treatment and connect teens to positive activities and caring adults.

Juvenile Justice Reform: A Blueprint From the Youth Transition Funders Group

YTFG Blueprint 2012Detaining Youth Instead of Confining the Problem
The Juvenile Justice Work Group of the Youth Transition Funders Group recently released the third edition of “Juvenile Justice Reform: A Blueprint.” According to the report, 2.2 million juveniles are arrested and 400,000 youth cycle through juvenile detention centers each year. Noting that “50 to 70 percent of youth released from juvenile correctional facilities are rearrested within two to three years,” the report suggests a critical problem exists within the juvenile justice system nationwide.
As part of a movement to view youth incarceration as an option of last resort, The Blueprint outlines this framework:
The Blueprint
1.Divert youth from the justice system
2.Reduce institutionalization
3.Eliminate racial and ethnic disparity
4.Ensure access to quality counsel
5.Create a range of effective community-based programs
6.Recognize ad serve youth with specialized needs
7.Build small rehabilitative facilities
8.Improve aftercare and reentry
9.Engage youth, family and community
10.Keep youth out of adult courts, jails and prisons
Reclaiming Futures is highlighted in the report as a successful initiative that has helped divert troubled youth from confinement in juvenile correctional facilities. Founded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Reclaiming Futures model helps communities systematically identify and address youth with specialized needs, by connecting them to the proper resources and support needed to address underlying mental health and/or substance abuse issues.
The Blueprints for Violence Prevention project identified other successful models including Multisystemic Therapy (MST), Functional Family Therapy (FFT) and Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care (MTFC). Each of these models emphasizes the important role of family, is cost-effective and has shown promising results.

Breaking the Barriers: Texas Teens Use Sledgehammers to Break Through Negative Influences

Many of the youth who enter the Samuel F. Santana Challenge Academy have barriers that contributed to their negative behavior. Without overcoming those barriers, many of our youth will continue their negative behavior long after they are out of the juvenile system.
While working at the Challenge Academy, I came up with an idea for a way our challenge youth could identify their own barriers and move forward. On the track, there was a 4x4 cement slab that was used for Challenge's flag pole. That slab was not being utilized and had to be removed for a future project. I had a vision for the concrete slab that involved giving the teens an opportunity to write down barriers that they wanted to break on the slab and then literally breaking them.
In their own words, each teen had a section of the concrete to write and draw their barriers down. One section of the concrete was dedicated for all of the juveniles to trace their right hand in a promise to make a commitment to break their barriers. Once the entire slab was complete, on May 7th at 5:00 pm, a Break the Barriers ceremony was conducted.

North Carolina Funding Opportunity: Become a Reclaiming Futures Site!

The Division of Juvenile Justice and The Duke Endowment are pleased to release this request for proposals for four additional Reclaiming Futures sites in North Carolina. With funding from The Duke Endowment, this opportunity furthers the efforts of the North Carolina Reclaiming Futures Initiative to ensure that court-involved youths are screened for substance abuse problems, connected with assessment and treatment, as necessary, and have access to long-term, community-based supports to ensure positive outcomes. To learn more about the Reclaiming Futures model, visit

For more information on this request for proposal, a bidders’ webinar will be offered on Thursday, June 14th at 11:30 to provide additional information and answer questions. To register for the webinar, click here.

The deadline to apply is July 13, 2012 by 5:00 p.m. If you have any questions or need additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me at or 919-743-8115.

Wake Forest Law School Students Mentor Troubled Teens in North Carolina

An integral part of Reclaiming Futures' six step model is connecting troubled young people with positive and caring adult mentors. In Forsyth County, North Carolina, Wake Forest Law School students are volunteering their time to mentor teens and provide that positive influence.
Our very own judicial fellow Judge William B. Reingold spearheaded the partnership between the Pro Bono Project and Reclaiming Futures. He recruited students by sharing the benefits of being a mentor while detailing the great need in Forsyth County. 
Writing in the Pro Bono Project's blog, law student Ramie Shalabi explains the partnership:

The Wake Forest University School of Law students meet at least once a week with their mentees and participate in activities such as bowling, prom dress shopping, and playing basketball. The mentors are required to write “contact notes,” which they submit to Advanced Placement monthly, to help ensure that the program is running effectively.
Although law students make a one-year commitment to the program, most of this year’s mentors have expressed their desire to remain involved in their mentee’s lives. Kelsey Baird (’13), a mentor, called her experience “valuable as it is fulfilling . . . and one of the best programs I’ve been involved in at Wake Forest.”

Youth court steers first offenders to the right path and more: news roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform
Youth court steers first offenders to the right path (Livingston County News)  Teenage volunteers are trained to serve as judges, attorneys, juries and other court officers empowered with determining a community service “sanction” for the young offender to complete.
Justice deptartment moves to engage public in juvenile court remedy (Tri-State Defender)  U.S. Department of Justice officials on Wednesday (May 9) confirmed plans for their own town hall meeting designed, in part, to help make sure that “people understand the next steps” in bringing Shelby County Juvenile Court up to federal standards.
Opinion: Trying youths as adults hurts families and taxpayers, but not crime (Christian Science Monitor)  Most youth cases that end up in adult court, get there automatically – a result of laws, for instance, that set the age for adult trial at 16 or 17. These youths are not afforded the benefit of any kind of judicial hearing or case review by a juvenile court judge.
Fewer Texas kids in discipline schools (Austin American-Statesman)  The number of Texas children in schools for those previously expelled because of disciplinary problems declined by nearly 40 percent over five years, a top juvenile justice official told lawmakers Monday.
Teen Court program designed to steer youths away from crime (  Teen Court is a program run by the Prince George’s County state’s attorney’s office that allows first-time juvenile offenders to avoid the juvenile justice system by being granted a second chance by a “jury” of their peers.

Day 2 Takeaways from the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute

We're spending the week in San Antonio for the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute (which you may already know if you're following @RFutures on Twitter). For those not on Twitter, we'll be posting updates here on the blog and on Facebook.
Here are our takeaways from Day 2:
Cora Crary, Learning Collaborative Manager, Reclaiming Futures

  • People are inclined to believe stories - with or without data.
  • However, if you share data without the story people are uncomfortable believing it (as an example read through any Harper's index and see if you believe everything you read) 

Liz Wu, Blog Editor, Reclaiming Futures

Day 1 Takeaways from the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute

We're spending the week in San Antonio for the Reclaiming Futures Leadership Institute (which you may already know if you're following @RFutures on Twitter). For those not on Twitter, we'll be posting updates here on the blog and on Facebook.
Here are our takeaways from Day 1:
Cora Crary, Learning Collaborative Manager, Reclaiming Futures

  • "Sometimes the best treatment is cookies and milk." Day one started off with a fantastic presentation by Jerry Tello who developed the Cara y Corazon curriculum used by Reclaiming Futures Santa Cruz. His presentation reminded us that no scope of work or assessment has the power to heal the way feeling wanted and connected within a community can.
  • Marcus Stubblefield reinforced Jerry Tello's work in his presentation on community involvement. He reminded us that, "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."
  • At lunch we got a fantastic dance presentation by the local youth group, HYPE -- including a chance to see our colleagues on the dance floor.
  • Laura Nissen talked about the importance of family engagements and reminded us that systems create trauma in the lives of their clients.
  • To top it off we saw a number of fellows rise to our Twitter challenge. So keep track in real time to their highlights with the hashtag #rf10.

Liz Wu, Blog Editor, Reclaiming Futures

Reclaiming Futures: Leadership at All Levels

Although I grew up in North Carolina, over the last 4 months I have had the opportunity to travel to parts of the state I had never seen. I have met so many incredible leaders along the way who have welcomed and helped orient me to Reclaiming Futures.
Leadership is a critical component of the Reclaiming Futures model, at the state level in the form of the State Champions Advisory group, the national program office and at the local level.
Each Reclaiming Futures site has a change team of five key leaders (or Fellows) who work to make the project successful. Many more leaders are participating in the local efforts to get court-involved youth screened, engaged in treatment and connected with long-term community supports.
The local fellowships include:
Project Directors—They help guide the change team to plan and implement the model.
Judicial Fellows—Judges help influence the substance abuse treatment that teens receive.
Juvenile Justice Fellows—Court counselors and ad- ministrators help guide youths and their families through the system.
Treatment Fellows—Providers help youths get the treatment they need to overcome drug and alcohol problems.
Community Fellows–Community agencies or organizations connect youth with positive supports in their community to ensure ongoing services after completion of treatment and probation.

Juvenile Justice Reform News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Program helps juvenile offenders stay out of jail  Belleville News-Democrat A federal government official, state officials, judges and local leaders met in East St. Louis Wednesday to discuss and learn about Redeploy Illinois, a state program that works to keep juvenile offenders out of detention centers.
  • Opinion: Juvenile justice reform Orlando Sentinel In Florida, Orange and Osceola counties smartly realized one bad decision shouldn't ruin a kid's life.
  • Fixing juvenile court, we can't let this stand Tri-State Defender A unified response to the findings of the U.S. Justice Department’s recently released investigation of Shelby County Juvenile Court is driving the push for a town hall meeting being spearheaded by Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks.
  • Reports underscore safety, security issues at Giddings youth lockup Chicago Tribune Confidential reports reveals that long before a state ombudsman made public an alarming report about safety and security issues at the Giddings State School, attacks on workers and reports of violence and out-of-control youth had been on an upswing.

Breaking the Cycle of Drugs, Alcohol and Crime

We know how to break the cycle of drugs, alcohol and crime, writes National Executive Director Susan Richardson at Join Together. And now is an important time to do so.
She explains:

Almost two million American youth need treatment for alcohol and other drug use or abuse. But only 1 in 20 will receive treatment.
Research shows that teens with substance abuse problems are more likely to break the law, behave violently or drop out of school. In fact, 4 out of 5 young people in the juvenile justice system commit crimes while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Young people need to be held accountable when they break the law. Unless they receive treatment for a substance abuse problem that helped them get in trouble in the first place, they will often find themselves back in juvenile court again and again.

Read the full piece here.

Mentoring: Best Practices for High Risk Youth

As Reclaiming Futures sites look for ways to connect youth with long-term supports, many of them turn to one-on-one mentoring programs. Several sites are utilizing law students from local universities as their sources for these mentors, while other sites try to build up connections with the natural helpers in a youth‘s life, such as a parent or relative.
Mentoring has been shown to be an effective intervention for working with high-risk youth. An evaluation of the Big Brothers/ Big Sisters mentoring program by Public/ Private Ventures (P/PV) demonstrated that mentored youth were:

  • 46% less likely than controls to initiate drug use
  • 27% less likely to initiate alcohol use than controls

These findings were even more significant for minority participants who were 70% less likely to initiate drug use and 50% less likely to initiate alcohol use.
So what makes certain mentoring programs more successful than others?

2012 National Drug Control Strategy Emphasizes Prevention, Treatment, Diversion (and Applauds Reclaiming Futures)

Speaking at this year's annual JMATE conference, the Office of National Drug Control Policy's David Mineta stressed the Administration's priority on drug prevention, treatment and diversion programs. "Addiction can be overcome and recovery is absolutely possible," he said. "And we need to make sure our young people have the brightest future possible. It's personal for us."
With the recent release of the 2012 National Drug Control Strategy [pdf], it's clear that the Administration plans to follow up Mineta's remarks with a strong policy strategy for reducing drug use and its consequences. In particular, the Strategy recommends diverting non-violent drug offenders into treatment, supporting reentry programs to help offenders rejoin their communities and bolstering innovative enforcement programs.
Writing in the White House Blog, Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius, U.S. Attorney General Holder and ONDCP Director Kerlikowske explain their multi-agency approach to reducing drug use and supporting recovery efforts:

Our emphasis on addressing the drug problem through a public health approach is grounded in decades of research and scientific study. There is overwhelming evidence that drug prevention and treatment programs achieve meaningful results with significant long-term cost savings. In fact, recent research has shown that each dollar invested in an evidence-based prevention program can reduce costs related to substance use disorders by an average of $18.
But reducing the burden of our Nation’s drug problem stretches beyond prevention and treatment. We need an all of the above approach. To address this problem in a comprehensive way, the President’s new Strategy also applies the principles of public health to reforming the criminal justice system, which continues to play a vital role in drug policy. It outlines ways to break the cycle of drug use, crime, incarceration, and arrest by diverting non-violent drug offenders into treatment, bolstering support for reentry programs that help offenders rejoin their communities, and advancing support for innovative enforcement programs proven to improve public health while protecting public safety.

In recognizing the potential of the criminal justice system in deterring/reducing/treating drug and alcohol addiction, the Strategy praises Reclaiming Futures for its work in addressing substance abuse and mental health problems among youth in the juvenile system:

Funding Opportunity: Improve Treatment for Youth Involved with the Juvenile Justice System

In case you missed it: The Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention are looking for communities interested in implementing the Reclaiming Futures model. And they have $1.325 million (over 4 years) in funding to give away. 
From the request for proposals:

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Justice Programs (OJP), Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is pleased to announce that it is seeking applications for funding under the FY 2012 Juvenile Drug Courts/Reclaiming Futures program. This program furthers the Department’s mission by building the capacity of states, state and local courts, units of local government, and Indian tribal governments to develop and establish juvenile drug courts for substance abusing juvenile offenders.

The deadline is May 16, 2012, so apply today! We look forward to working with you!

North Carolina Update: Screening for Adolescent Substance Abuse

The first step of the Reclaiming Futures model is to screen youth entering the juvenile justice system for substance abuse problems using a reputable screening tool. Each of the six sites in North Carolina have adopted the Global Appraisal for Individual Needs Short Screener (GAIN-SS).
From 2010-2011, 2,663 GAIN screeners were completed with 2,490 youth in Reclaiming Futures' North Carolina sites. Of these screenings, 22% scored at moderate to high risk on the substance disorder screener. This indicates that these youths may need substance abuse, dependence or substance use disorder treatment and therefore should be referred for further assessment. Approximately 18% of youth scored high risk on the overall screening with an additional 75% scoring moderate risk, indicating need for substance abuse and/or mental health assessment/treatment.
This tool has been made available to all counties through the North Carolina Juvenile Online Information Network (NC-JOIN). Since July 2011, 58 counties have used NC-JOIN to track results of the GAIN screening results. This data is then used to make appropriate referrals and in development of service plans for youths.

JMATE 2012: Day 3 Takeaways

Whew, what an incredible (and jam-packed) three days! Here are our very quick takeaways from the final day of the Joint Meeting on Adolescent Treatment Effectiveness 2012:
Susan Richardson, National Executive Director, Reclaiming Futures

  • Youth consume more than 90% of their alcohol by binge drinking. And unfortunately, 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die annually as a result of binge drinking.
  • Only half of kids are asked about or screened for drinking and smoking when they visit a physician. 
  • When screening for substance use, the best questions to ask are about frequency of drinking and friends' drinking habits.
  • When working with at-risk kids, it's critical to take a hard look at an substance an adolescent has used more than five times.
  • The Longitudinal Pathways to Desistance Study is an important resource for those working with seriously offending teens.
  • A substance use disorder changes the relationship between risk markers and gainful activity over 6 years (mental health diagnoses do not). A substance use disorder makes things much worse.
  • Treatment provides a positive effect on marijuana use, offending and alcohol consumption for a period of time IF treatment continues for a sufficient length of time.

Liz Wu, Blog Editor, Reclaiming Futures

JMATE 2012: Remembering and Honoring John Berry

This morning we took some time to honor and remember friends and mentors who passed away last year. I could never do these individuals and their legacies justice, so I'll just say that we've lost some real life heroes and champions of youth who continue to inspire us daily.
Reclaiming Futures lost a tireless youth advocate and mentor last October. At this JMATE session, colleague Denise Mannon remembered John Berry and spoke about her experience in working with him. John was a true friend and supporter of youth who worked as a justice fellow at Reclaiming Futures in Forsyth County, North Carolina. John was a humble man who supported his colleagues and often thanked them for their dedication and work. He is greatly missed. 
After his passing, Robin Jenkins (Chief Operating Officer, North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention) released the following statement, praising John for his work and dedication to young people:

Live Blogging JMATE: The Juvenile Drug Court and Reclaiming Futures Models

This afternoon we heard about an upcoming evaluation of six Reclaiming Futures juvenile drug courts. Bridget Ruiz, a technical expert on adolescents from JBS International, chaired the session and opened the panel presentation with a discussion of the history of juvenile drug courts and Reclaiming Futures and also outlined the important elements of each approach.
“Evidence shows that combining the two models has been effective in helping young people, “ said Ruiz, who formerly was an associate professor at the University of Arizona.
Erika Ostlie, a senior policy associate at Carnevale Associates, gave an overview of an upcoming evaluation supported by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) of six federally funded Reclaiming Futures sites.

JMATE 2012: Day 1 Takeaways

Well, JMATE is off to a great start! Day one is over and we're all looking forward to day two. Here are our takeaways from today:
Jim Carlton, Deputy Director, Reclaiming Futures

  • Funding for prevention has been steadily declining over the years.
  • We're now seeing an uptick in marijuana (and alcohol???) usage among teens as prevention messages and perceived risks decrease.
  • Recovery services need to become as available as drugs and alcohol are.
  • Child maltreatment is the biggest predictor of co-occurring disorders.
  • Use of illegal substances and alcohol by adolescent girls have risen to nearly that of boys. Girls are more likely to abuse prescription drugs
  • There is ongoing tension around evidence based practices and culturally based services. For example, there are hundreds of federally recognized native tribes in the U.S. but very little research done to validate evidence based practices with them. Many native treatment approaches have not been studied.


Live blogging at JMATE: Organizational Issues in an Era of Change

This morning I attend a panel discussion on how organizations manage change. Chaired by Dan Merrigan, a professor at Boston University who manages the Reclaiming Futures leadership program, the session featured three presentations that addressed key communication and collaboration challenges.
Dr. Merrigan focused on the role of leadership in the initiative. “At Reclaiming Futures, we believe leadership is about setting direction, creating alignment, and maintaining commitment,” said Dr. Merrigan. “ According to Dr. Merrigan, the Reclaiming Futures leadership culture is a collective activity distributed across boundaries and it exists without formal authority. “Leadership is adaptive, strategic, and relational,” said Dr. Merrigan.
Dr. Merrigan stressed that it’s important to recognize that change always causes anxiety. “We urge people to distinguish between technical work (which requires mechanical fixes),” he said, “and adaptive work (which requires addressing change). To accomplish this, Reclaiming Futures helps local teams build teams across systems, cultures and organizations that identify their adaptive challenges.”