When Teens Leave Residential Care: What's Next?

Picture of David AltschulerAnyone in the field of juvenile justice or teen treatment knows that youth who return to the community after a period in a secure residential setting are in for a rough ride. Many return to drugs and crime -- even when aftercare is available. 
According Dr. David Altschuler (see photo), it's not surprising that so many youth fail in aftercare, since the skills they must learn in order to succeed in residential care are not the same skills they need to succeed in the community. 

What can be done?  Altschuler, a longtime advisor to Reclaiming Futures and Principal Research Scientist at The Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies, has some ideas. You can find them in his paper, "Rehabilitating and Reintegrating Youth Offenders: Are Residential and Community Aftercare Colliding Worlds and What Can Be Done About It?" It appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of the Justice Policy Journal, put out by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice
In essence, Altschuler recommends an unusually close partnership between secure residential facilities and the aftercare agencies to which they pass the teens on. All must share philosophy, staff training, and treatment models, among other things.
It's a tall order, but it's a great "next step" for Reclaiming Futures communities. (For those who don't know, Reclaiming Futures focuses, in part, on improved integration between treatment and probation to assure that youth are not lost as they move between steps of the Reclaiming Futures model -- for example, between assessment for alcohol and drug use, and initiating treatment.)
Both Altschuler's recommended model and Reclaiming Futures require a level of coordination and collaboration between agencies, systems, and community members that's unprecedented in most jurisdictions. But it's worth striving for: these teens may be struggling with drugs and alcohol, and in trouble with the law, but they're our youth, and we want them to succeed.
After all, what wouldn't we do for our children? 
UPDATE Jan. 28, 2011: The Pathways to Desistance study found that aftercare is a key to youth coming out of the justice system. Check out this post for more information about the study.

Updated: February 08 2018