Local artists in Snohomish County, Washington, are contributing their time, tools, and studio space to mentor teens recently involved in their community’s juvenile justice system. For eight weeks, the youth will learn art and photography skills, then produce artwork documenting their lives, families, and communities. Some of their efforts will be featured in local art venues or the local newspaper.
The teens are participants in Promising Arts in Recovery (PAIR), part of Snohomish County’s local Reclaiming Futures program. The goal of PAIR is to establish social and job skills by connecting local artists with at-risk teens who are involved in the juvenile justice system and may be undergoing treatment for substance use or mental health issues. Through programs like PAIR that offer workshops, internships, or job-shadowing opportunities, local professionals are not only helping these young people develop skills necessary to be active citizens, they are helping to rebuild a community around prevention.
In recognition of National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, we reflect on the critical need for community involvement programs that create sustainable, long-term solutions to help prevent American teens from using drugs and alcohol. At Reclaiming Futures, a national model applied in 18 states to improve juvenile justice systems, we believe that community involvement helps create a culture of prevention.
The mission of Reclaiming Futures is to help teens trapped in the cycle of drugs, alcohol, and crime by improving access to resources through collaboration among court services, treatment service providers, educators, families, and communities. We focus on getting teens more treatment and better treatment. But equally important is connecting them with activities beyond treatment that, like PAIR, establish behaviors to help them stay drug- and crime-free. It is this beyond treatment element that has the potential to propel a new community identity around prevention. These programs help to build a network of caring individuals invested in teens’ success. Once established, the programs have the ability to reach young people early to counter peer pressure and adverse childhood experiences that may lead to substance use.
Devoting resources to community-rooted solutions and conversation about prevention can help America’s youth connect with support systems that will aid in the success of their futures.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is also championing community-rooted solutions through its Drug-Free Communities Support Program, which enables local community coalitions across the country establish and strengthen collaboration with public and private agencies to amplify youth substance abuse prevention efforts.
Susan Richardson is national executive director for Reclaiming Futures. Formerly, she was a senior program officer in the health care division of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in North Carolina, where she led a three-year effort involving the state’s juvenile justice and treatment leaders to adopt the Reclaiming Futures model by juvenile courts in six North Carolina counties.