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.

Evaluation Shows Effectiveness of Drug Courts in Reducing Drug Use, Criminal Behavior

Having their start in the late 1980’s and gaining in popularity since, drug courts are court treatment programs that target criminal defendants, juvenile offenders, and/or parents involved in the child welfare system who have alcohol and drug addiction and dependency issues.   There are now approximately 2,600 drug courts operating in the United States, with 50 percent of them exclusively for adult offenders.

The December 2011 report, The Multi-Site Adult Drug Court Evaluation, by Shelli B. Rossman, John K. Roman, Janine M. Zweig, Michael Rempel and Christine H. Lindquist presents the findings of an extensive evaluation of the nation’s drug courts. The study examined the successful drug courts in reducing drug use and criminal activity among adult participants while having a positive impact on their lives in other ways. Key findings include,

  • Yes,  drug courts resulted in statistically significant reductions in relapse by participants.  Compared to the  group not on the specialized drug court track, participants were significantly less likely report any drug use (76 percent compared to 56 percent) in the past year (at the 1.5 year follow-up point).  Also, fewer drug court participants tested positive for illegal drugs (29 versus 46 percent).
  • Yes, drug courts resulted in a significant decrease in criminality of participants.  Court patrons were significantly less likely than the comparison group to report committing crimes (40 versus 53 percent) in the year prior to the 1.5 year follow up contact.  In fact, participants were also significantly less likely to report committing any crime at all at  the six- month and the 18-month follow-up.  Perhaps due to the nature the intervention, the researchers also found that drug court participation specifically reduced the crimes of drug possession, drug sales offenses, driving while intoxicated, and property related crime.
  • Yes, members of the drug court sample did experience some positive personal outcomes outside of  both reduced drug/alcohol use and criminality. Data from the 1.5 year follow up interviews indicated that drug court participants were significantly less likely than those in the comparison group to report an employment, education, or financial service need,  and reported less family conflict.  There were no differences between the groups for self-reported symptoms of depression or homelessness.

The evaluation report, downloadable in 4 parts, is available via the National Institute of Justice website.

With evidence that drug courts are working better than the traditional justice system with these  type of offenders,  support of their use and expansion makes good academic, practical and  fiscal sense. Information about the Allegheny County Drug Court (that has been in operation for nearly 15 years) is available at the Allegheny County Department of Human services website.