Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awards funds to local coalition to address juvenile substance abuse

A Montgomery County coalition is one of 11 communities selected out of 280 national applicants to join an initiative of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation called Reclaiming Futures. The five-year program will address substance abuse treatment and other services for young people in trouble with the law. The $249,052 planning grant to Dayton's coalition is one of $2.59 million awarded nationwide.

The coalition plans to work with 500 first-time offenders in the Montgomery County Juvenile Court and 50 high-need youth returning from secure detention beginning in 2003.

In the year 2000, approximately 6,000 of the 10,000 young people formally adjudicated by the Montgomery Juvenile Court had substance abuse problems. "We know that youth who abuse alcohol and drugs will need support and help from the community in order to remain drug free," says Judge Michael Murphy of Montgomery County Juvenile Court.

"Youth in Montgomery County's juvenile justice system are reflecting the trends of our region, with alcohol and drug use on the rise and starting at younger ages," says Richard Rapp, MSW, assistant professor of community health in Wright State's School of Medicine and director for the project.

"America's juvenile justice system faces a public health crisis," says Laura Burney Nissen, Ph.D., director of Reclaiming Futures, a national program of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "As many as four out of five of the two million young people who enter the justice system each year have an alcohol or drug problem. Even though research shows that treating alcohol and drug abuse reduces crime, saves money, and builds stronger communities, the majority of young offenders receive no treatment."

"We want to change this," says Nissen. "The grants we are awarding today will create model programs in Montgomery County and elsewhere in the United States to show how we can reinvent treatment, judicial and social services to meet this need."

Dayton's project, called Mobilizing Natural Helpers, redefines three major components of the juvenile justice system and substance abuse services. The first is how youth are assessed when they enter the juvenile justice system. Although a large amount of information is gathered during the assessment process, it is primarily problem focused. The coalition's partners will work to create an alternative assessment scheme that focuses more on youth assets and abilities.

The second component will examine the potential value of increasing the use of "natural helpers," members of the youth's community to assist in his or her rehabilitation. While agency-delivered treatment will remain a critical part of the services youth receive, an increasing reliance will be placed on the role that mentors, the faith community, and neighbors can play in assisting youth and their families.

The last component will emphasize restorative justice practices, combining the assets of youth and their involvement with natural helpers in court dispositions. Youth will be expected to give back to the community and, in so doing, establish a closer relationship with that community.

"This grant will help Montgomery County bring together those resources that exist in a cohesive way to help keep young people away from drugs and alcohol," says Judge Murphy.

Reclaiming Futures officials say judicial leadership will play a critical part in these efforts. Local judges in each community will participate in a two-year fellowship. Michael B. Murphy, Judge with the Juvenile Division of the Common Pleas Court of Montgomery County, will represent the coalition in the national program.

Local partners of the Montgomery County Natural Helpers Coalition include:

  • Montgomery County Juvenile Court
  • the Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board
  • the Center for Interventions, Treatment and Addictions Research, Wright State University School of Medicine
  • Good Samaritan Hospital's Samaritan CrisisCare
  • Eastway Corporation
  • Big Brothers/Big Sisters
  • Project Impact
  • Dayton Rotary
  • Shiloh Church
  • Mt. Calvary Church, and
  • The Dayton Foundation

As the coalition formulates plans for the coming five years, other community youth service providers will be asked to participate. In four following years, the coalition will apply for up to $250,000 annually to support the project.

Reclaiming Futures is a five-year $21 million initiative of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation based at the Graduate School of Social Work at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was established as a national philanthropy in 1972 and today is the largest U.S. foundation devoted to health and health care. To learn about its mission and work, see

Last edited on 04/28/2015.