Lessons on Systems Change from The Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare

The impact of parental substance abuse on children’s stability and well-being is a concern that crosses systems.  Data suggests that parental drug and alcohol use is related to abuse and neglect and increases the likelihood of a parent’s involvement in the justice system – including the possibility of incarceration. The National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare (NCSACW) provides In-Depth Technical Assistance (IDTA) to a handful of sites across the country in the areas of substance abuse, child welfare and the courts to result in better outcomes for families involved in these systems.  For approximately 18 months, the IDTA team works with local, state or tribal entities to coordinate strategy and services across systems through the use of evidence-based programs and on-site technical assistance in order to grow capacity for improved child and family outcomes.

The report, In-Depth Technical Assistance (IDTA) Final Report 2007-2012 provides an overview of the IDTA program model, related site accomplishments, and the lessons of system change at various levels. Some findings include,

  • 50 percent of the sites implemented (or enhanced) a recovery specialist model in their programs;
  • 68 percent developed and/or implemented cross-system training plans;
  • 60 percent developed and/or implemented screening protocols that resulted in lowers costs, reduced redundancy and a more efficient referral process;
  • 27 percent used cross-system data collection and tracking processes, such as case reviews and drop-off analysis, to inform policy and program decisions. (Note: according to the SAMHSA website, a Drop-Off Analysis is “a method used to assess linkages among child welfare, treatment agencies and courts. The method helps to identify connections that families need to make between systems to obtain services and achieve their child welfare case goals.”)

In addition to program findings, the brief discusses numerous lessons learned around systems change, particularly: issues in achieving long-term policy and practice changes and avoiding the fracture of collaborative relationships post-project,  leadership focused on engaging and sustaining partners,  use of data to identify areas of and opportunities for change, and realistic timelines for implementing system change and shared accountability.

New Findings from Juvenile Offender Study Suggest Patterns of Criminality not Predictable

The Pathways to Desistance study is a large-scale, longitudinal study that followed a cohort of juvenile offenders (all found guilty of a felony or serious criminal offense) from the Phoenix, Arizona and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania areas into young adulthood (up to seven years post adjudication).  The principal researcher, Edward P. Mulvey, of the University of Pittsburgh, recently published a brief discussing some of the updated findings from the study.  Highlights include:

  • The trajectory of a youth’s future criminal activity cannot be predicted by the type of offense that brought him or her to the attention of the court.
  • Institutional placement of an adjudicated juvenile does not decrease recidivism and in some cases may increase the risk of re-arrest.
  • Substance abuse treatment is linked to better outcomes for youth offenders, but it may not be available or of the intensity and/or duration required.

The policy implications of these, and other,  findings are discussed in the National Juvenile Justice Network’s September 2012 brief, Emerging Findings and Policy Implications from the Pathways to Desistance Study.

What (if any) impact will these findings have on justice system policies?  Given the school-to-prison pipeline investigation(s), will the data on recidivism and incarceration influence a slightly less legalistic approach to maintaining order in public schools?  What is it about quality substance abuse treatment that has a stronger impact on juvenile re-offending than the fear returning to a correctional institution?

Rural Versus Urban Users – More Differences than Similarities


A report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates major differences in admissions for substance abuse between rural areas and urban centers.  Using 2009 data from their Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS), the report found that rural admissions were more often from the criminal justice system, more often to be related to alcohol abuse, and less likely to report daily use of drugs/alcohol.

Some key findings from the report, A Comparison of Rural and Urban Substance Abuse Treatment Admissions, include,

  • Rural substance abuse treatment referrals were more likely than urban admissions to be referred by the criminal justice system (51.6 compared to 28.4 percent) and less likely to a self or family referral (22.8 compared to 38.7 percent).
  • Rural substance abuse treatment admissions were younger than their urban counterparts when they started using their substance of choice (32.1 percent between the ages 15 and 17 compared to 26.7 percent). Urban admissions were more likely to report first use experience occurring at age 18 and above (32.7 compared to 45.6 percent).
  • Just over 30 percent of rural substance abuse admissions and 27.2 percent of urban substance abuse admissions reported a psychiatric problem.

This report discusses the various differences between rural and urban substance abuse, bolstering the case for community and culturally specific, targeted, intervention outreach and prevention practices.

PA Juvenile Justice Scandal Restitution Payment Funds Youth Programming

The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) has awarded organizations in Luzerne County $2.16 million in grants to fund programming for area youth. The monies come from restitution payment from a defendant in the in the case fixing or “kids for cash scandal” that drew the attention of the FBI,  shook public confidence in court system officials and led to additonal procedural protections for youth in the juvenile justice system.

Seventeen programs were chosen out of a pool of over 50 proposals, including projects from Luzerne County Head Start, the Domestic Violence Service Center, Family Service Association of Wyoming Valley, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northeastern Pennsylvania, and the creation of a new Luzerne County Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program. Individual award amounts and project details are included in a press release from PCCD, also  available on their website.