Innovative teen drug court reflects new attitude to drug abusers
The teen-agers looked skeptical, the parents hopeful.
Both came out to El Dorado County Superior Court at South Shore for S.T.O.P. N.O.W!, a teen drug court that may be the first of its kind in the nation. It’s a family-court partnership that helps 12-to 17-year-olds get off drugs or alcohol and straighten out their lives.
Tapping family and community members to form a support team for the teen-ager is what makes this program unique. The court asks the teen-ager’s “family team” what it can do to help instead of just issuing orders. Employees from the health department, probation department and Tahoe Youth & Family Services are working closely with the program to help fulfill needs of the families.
“The drug court we’re putting together is not really a court … it’s really to help you get through some tough times,” said Superior Court Commissioner William H. Bradley, in court Monday afternoon. “Down here we’re giving you some options. We’re trying to help you and you’re trying to help yourself.”
There are strict guidelines like regular drugs tests, no unexcused school absences and a weekly meeting with a probation officer. But the court also requires that a parent attend court with their teen-ager to make the experience less traumatic and to facilitate rehabilitation.
“It’s about their support team,” said a 43-year-old father of teenage girl in the program. “They get to pick people who care and know them. They get a chance to work on problems with family and friends, otherwise they’ll be in court doing it alone. The child knows they’re cared about.”
His 16-year-old daughter, who is in the program because of petty theft and because she requested some drug and alcohol treatment, said the new system was better than regular probation because it offers her more chances and options.
There are 12 teen-agers participating in the program, half are wards of the court, meaning they have been ordered by criminal court to participate in the program, the rest have been informally recommended for the program.
Most of the teen-agers in the program have been involved in some crime as a result of substance abuse. If they complete the six to nine month S.T.O.P. N.O.W! program, the charge filed against them will be dismissed.
The program has room for 25 teen-agers, a number Bradley and El Dorado County Drug Court Coordinator Olga Williams said they expect to match soon.
“Somewhere along the line, we got humbled,” Williams said. “Now we’ve gone to the family and asked, ‘So what do you need?’ “
Incentives are also part of the new court. For example, if a teen-ager tests clean for drugs a certain number of weeks in a row, they might be offered a free pass to the movies or a free lift ticket.
S.T.O.P. N.O.W!, Strong Teens Outstanding Parents New Opportunities for Wellness, is funded by a $600,000 grant from the California Office of Criminal Justice Planning.
Anyone who wants to donate incentives to the program should call Julie Henry at (530) 573-3383 or Olga Williams at (530) 621-6196.
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