The Problem

Why Teens Need Reclaiming Futures

What do teens in the justice system need? It’s very simple: more treatment, better treatment, and beyond treatment. Read on to learn why this is so. More about the solution. »

The Teens Who Need Treatment Aren’t Getting It

Teens are Using

We know that many teens experiment with alcohol and drugs. And research shows that teens with substance abuse problems are more likely to break the law, behave violently, or drop out of school.

Only One in 10 Get Treated

According to national data, almost two million young people ages 12 to 17 need treatment for substance abuse or dependence, but only one in 10 will get treated. That’s unfortunate, because effective adolescent substance abuse treatment can help teens stay out of trouble, make our communities safer, and save money.

Young People in Trouble with the Law Slip through the Cracks

Nevertheless, most communities today do not know how many of their young offenders have serious substance abuse issues, because they don’t consistently screen and assess teens referred to juvenile court for drug and alcohol problems.

Young people need to be held accountable when they break the law, but unless they receive treatment when they have a substance abuse problem that helped them get in trouble in the first place, they will usually find themselves back in juvenile court again and again.

More Treatment Needed

Reclaiming Futures helps local juvenile justice systems do a better job of identifying teens that need treatment, and assessing their individual needs by helping them implement high-quality, validated screening and assessment tools. In Kentucky, Ohio, and South Dakota, Reclaiming Futures has even helped communities create residential treatment services where none existed before.

As a result, more kids get access to the treatment they need, and policymakers have more data with which to make funding decisions.


Treatment Quality is Uneven

Better Treatment Needed

Even when teens do receive alcohol and drug treatment, the care can be ineffective. Until very recently, most young people were treated using protocols developed for adults—whose needs are very different from teens.

But even though newer, evidence-based models for treating teens exist, use of these techniques is spotty, and treatment providers often don’t have the funding to make sure that therapists know how to use them correctly. Reclaiming Futures communities, however, do adopt evidence-based adolescent substance abuse treatment approaches designed for young people. Alternatively, they may arrange training to ensure these methods are adopted system-wide.

Remove Unnecessary Barriers

It’s important to act quickly when a teen is ready to participate in treatment—those windows of opportunity close quickly. Yet many teens don’t receive timely treatment. By using the Reclaiming Futures model, communities have shortened the time it takes for teens to get from screening to assessment, and from assessment to their first treatment appointment, thereby improving the likelihood that they will engage in treatment and be successful.


Teens Need Things to Do…and Someone to Do Them With

Beyond Treatment

Almost every young person who appears in juvenile court eventually returns home. To stay crime-free and drug-free after completing probation, teens need mentors and other caring adults in their lives. They also need help finishing school, finding a job, and getting involved in activities like the arts, sports, and community service that help them learn the social skills we all need to succeed in life.

Youth Can Change with Adult Help

At Reclaiming Futures, we believe that youth can change. That all teens have strengths…strengths that all too frequently go untapped by the justice system. (See our “Strength-Based Bill of Rights for Teens in the Justice System.” »)

That’s why we focus participating sites on building a network of caring adults with whom teens in the justice system can be connected—and an array of activities where young people can learn social skills, job skills, and new behaviors that will help them stay drug-free and crime-free long after they complete treatment and probation.

Reclaiming Futures fosters new partnerships between the juvenile justice system and parents, caregivers, and established community-based youth service organizations, as well as with non-traditional partners, such as businesses and the faith community.

Quick Facts »
See the statistics and research that show: the lack of treatment for teens in the justice system; that treatment works and saves money; and that Reclaiming Futures works.