Juvenile drug courts are problem-solving courts for cases involving substance-abusing juveniles in need of specialized treatment services. The emphasis is on providing treatment to eligible, drug-involved juvenile offenders with the goal of reducing recidivism and substance abuse. The addition of the contingency management protocol and multisystemic therapy provides juveniles and families with additional engagement opportunities and support to improve the juvenile’s behavior.
Program Components/Services Provided
Juvenile drug courts are administered by a team of professionals, including court personnel (such as judges) and other treatment and social service providers. Juvenile drug court programs involve drug testing, ongoing case management, and weekly status hearings. In addition, treatment providers work closely with juvenile offenders and their families to target substance use and related problem behaviors.
Contingency management is a threefold process consisting of 1) addressing the target behavior or behaviors, 2) providing tangible reinforcers when those behaviors are exhibited, and 3) removing incentives when those behaviors are not shown (Petry 2000).
Integrating the contingency management protocol with juvenile drug court services includes several components. The first component is the use of validated instruments and clinical interviews to determine the extent of the juvenile’s substance use. The scale ranges from experimental use to abuse/dependency. If the juvenile’s substance use is measured toward the latter end of the scale, he or she is introduced to the contingency management protocol and referred to treatment services.
At that time, a therapist employed by a community-based service provider collaborates with the juvenile and parents/guardians to analyze the juvenile’s substance use behaviors. Referrals are made to self-management and drug refusal skills training, then the juvenile and parents/guardians create a contingency contract to outline rewards for negative substance screens and consequences for positive ones.
Contingency contracts include a list of reasonable rewards for abstaining from substance use. These include incentives such as Internet access, a later curfew, or gift cards to stores or restaurants. A voucher system with levels and points is assigned to the list of incentives to encourage juveniles to abstain from substance use. Points are earned or lost based on drug screens and can be redeemed for rewards at any time.
At program completion, the therapist works with the juvenile and parents/guardians to create an aftercare plan.
Multisystemic therapy enlists the support of family members in the treatment process. The juvenile drug courts incorporate key therapeutic elements and skills building of multisystemic therapy into their creation and implementation of treatment programs. Key strategies include juvenile and family collaboration in the development of treatment goals, conceptualizing interventions to meet those goals, maintaining a nonblaming stance, and incorporating skills such as empathy, reflective listening, and flexibility. The overall goal of multisystemic therapy is to keep juveniles who exhibit serious problems—such as criminal behavior—at home, in school, and out of trouble. Juveniles are treated in the environments where their problem behaviors exist (i.e., home, school) rather than in an unfamiliar environment (i.e., custody) to enable change.