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September 27, 2011 > County to implement program to support at-risk youth

County to implement program to support at-risk youth

Highly-praised Seven Challenges Program to complement probation, drug and alcohol services efforts for vulnerable youth

Submitted By Gwendolyn Mitchell and Marina Hinestrosa

Santa Clara County youth offenders with drug and alcohol problems will benefit from a $150,000 grant from the Correction Standards Authority. Thanks to a strong collaboration led by Santa Clara County Probation Department, the Juvenile Court, the Department of Alcohol and Drug Services and local providers, this competitive Title II grant will help such youngsters learn how to make good decisions, using the highly regarded Seven Challenges Program.

"We look forward to implementing this very successful program," said Supervisor Dave Cortese, President of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and Chair of the Children, Seniors and Families Committee. "We welcome non-traditional approaches that respond to the needs of at-risk youth and lead to positive outcomes for children who need direction."

Instead of dictating behavior, the Seven Challenges Program presents youth with a decision-making model to help them steadily change their behavior. Besides drug problems, most youth in the juvenile justice system have concurrent situational and psychological problems. At-risk youth will have the support of counselors as problem-solving partners who will help youngsters deal with underlying issues and teach life skills to prepare for a drug-free life.

Many youngsters do not recognize the impact alcohol and drug abuse has on their ability to make good, sound decisions. The program will raise their awareness of the connection and help establish incremental and attainable goals. Participants are encouraged, through transitions, and motivated to commit to change.

The Seven Challenges Program has been endorsed specifically for adolescents by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Anecdotal and official data on probation violators indicate most youth who enter the juvenile justice system have drug and alcohol issues. Approximately 35 states and more than 300 agencies and organizations use this program in juvenile justice facilities, probation departments, drug courts and schools.

Santa Clara County is implementing a significant system change to expand and enhance services to youth with substance use problems through the adoption of the Seven Challenges model and its availability to all youth within the Juvenile Justice System. The model provides a common framework and language across systems to ensure a more consistent provision of services and better continuity as youth transition from in-custody services into community-based services.

"Youth admitted into drug counseling and referred by probation, parole and drug court judges face significant, external pressure in some cases to either use or abstain from drugs," said Santa Clara County Chief Probation Officer Sheila Mitchell. "What's so remarkable about the Seven Challenges Program is that kids thrive on a model that encourages self-evaluation and self-awareness whereas traditionally aggressive approaches often breed defiance. They're empowered when they realize they can make the right decisions on their own."

"Honesty is crucial in the rehabilitation process," added Bob Garner, Director of the Department of Alcohol and Drug Services. "We'll emphasize responsibility through Seven Challenges Program without excessive and unnecessary blame or shame. Participants will be able to put their lives in context and understand the impact of their environment and other factors. Ultimately, we want youth to make thoughtful decisions for their own good."

For more information, contact Delores Nnam, Probation Department, at (408) 468-1658, Laura Garnette, Probation Department, at (408) 278-5900 or Stephen Betts, Department of Alcohol and Drug Services, at (408) 595 9355.

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