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County Ready to Implement Innovative Program To Support At-Risk Youth

Highly Praised Seven Challenges Program to Complement Probation, Drug and Alcohol Services Efforts for Vulnerable Youth

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF – 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 these youngsters to learn how to make good decisions, using the highly recognized Seven Challenges Program.

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

Instead of dictating behavior, the Seven Challenges Program presents youth with a decision-making model that helps them to make steady changes in their behavior. In addition to drug problems, most youth in the juvenile justice system have co-occurring situational and psychological problems. At-risk youth will have the support of counselors who act as problem-solving partners. They will help youngsters deal with underlying issues and teach life skills to prepare for a life free of drugs.

Many youngsters do not recognize the potential negative impact of alcohol and drug abuse on their ability to make good, sound decisions. Throughout the program, they will become more aware of the connection. The Seven Challenges Program helps to establish goals that are incremental and attainable. Participants are encouraged through transitions and motivated to make a commitment to change.

“This program focuses on changing the way our troubled kids think and will lead them toward making better decisions,” said County of Santa Clara Supervisor George Shirakawa, Chair of the Public Safety and Justice Committee. “Drug and alcohol use is so pervasive. Seven Challenges is a chance for these kids to get out of the system, stop the cycle of incarceration and return to the community healthier and safer.”

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

By adopting the Seven Challenges model and making it available to all youth within the Juvenile Justice System, Santa Clara County is implementing a significant system change, which will expand and enhance services to youth with substance use problems. This model provides a common framework and language across systems, which will ensure greater consistency in how services are provided 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 a significant external pressure in some cases to use drugs, or to abstain from drugs,” said Santa Clara County Chief Probation Officer Sheila Mitchell. “What is so remarkable about the Seven Challenges Program is that instead of the traditionally aggressive approaches that often breed defiance, kids thrive from a model that encourages self-evaluation and self-awareness. They are 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. “Through the Seven Challenges Program we will be placing a big emphasis on responsibility, without excessive and unnecessary blame or shame. Participants will be able to put their lives in context and understand how their environment and other factors can impact their lives. Ultimately we want youth to make thoughtful decisions about their lives.”

Training Sessions Under Way

Santa Clara County Probation Department and the Department of Drug and Alcohol Services are currently sponsoring the second of two separate Seven Challenges Program training sessions for representatives of community-based organizations serving at-risk youth. Other participants include representatives of the Bill Wilson Center, Pathways, Asian American Recovery Services, and Advent. The current training sessions are taking place at the Holden Training Center in Morgan Hill, from September 21-23, 2011

In addition, the County is offering overview sessions to describe the program and its use in Santa Clara County. These sessions were designed for stakeholders with an interest in this issue and all people (including parents, teachers, providers, County representatives, judges, attorneys, and child advocates) who work with adolescent youth. The last of the three overview sessions will take place on Thursday, September 22, 2011, from 3:30 p.m.-5:00 p.m. (TODAY) at the County of Santa Clara Charcot Training Center, 2310 N. First Street, Suite 102, San Jose (Entrance faces Charcot). No registration is required for this public overview.

Media Contact: Gwendolyn Mitchell/Marina Hinestrosa, Office of Public Affairs (408) 299-5119; Delores Nnam, Probation Department (408) 468-1658; Laura Garnette, Probation Department (408) 278-5900; Stephen Betts, Department of Alcohol and Drug Services (408) 595 9355
Posted: September 22, 2011