By Diana Hefley Herald Writer
EVERETT — Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss doesn’t expect the kids in drug court to tell him everything.
He also knows that many of them need to speak up or they’re won’t get clean and sober.
Weiss is hoping a new program in juvenile court will help kids open up about abuse, health issues and other obstacles that may be in getting in the way of conquering their addictions.
Thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Tulalip Tribes, two juvenile justice workers have received training to lead a gender-specific group for teens in the county’s At-Risk Youth and Juvenile Offender Drug Treatment courts.
The first group will be open to teenage girls.
The idea is to give girls a safe place to talk about things such as body image, sex or abuse.
These issues may be impeding their efforts to abstain from drugs and alcohol, said Janelle Sgrignoli, administrator for the county’s specialized courts.
Teenagers may not be comfortable talking about their problems in front of the opposite sex, Weiss said. They also may not want other kids to know about what’s going on. However, they need to address some of the underlying issues that are driving their behavior, he said. Often times kids start experimenting with drugs or alcohol because of childhood trauma.
“When they talk about it, they have a better chance at recovery,” Weiss said.
Eventually, a group will be started for teenage boys. The hope is to expand the program to all kids at the Denney Juvenile Justice Center.
Weiss said the grant also is going to help efforts to involve parents whose children are in drug court. Kids with substance abuse problems have a better chance at beating their addictions if their parents are involved in their recovery, Weiss said. The grant money will provide incentives to parents who get involved.
For example, people who work in the courts are taking some of the drug court teens bowling in January. The court will pay for the parents to bowl, too. Studies show that kids who are engaged in positive activities are going to be less likely to get in trouble.
Each year, the Tulalip Tribes give millions of dollars to hundreds of nonprofit organizations as part of their charitable donations program.
This was the first time the juvenile courts received a grant from the Tribes.
“The Tulalip Tribes supports efforts that echo our values. Children are the most precious resource of any community. We recognize that when a child or young person’s physical or emotional needs are not being met, they often turn to drugs, gangs and crime in order to meet those needs,” Tulalip Tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon said.
Drug court and alternative sentencings allow young people to have more support to address problems that may lead to criminal activity, he added.
“We hope that by treating youth addiction we can help that young person step onto a better path where they can be a successful and productive part of their community,” Sheldon said. “The bottom line is that we want good outcomes, and treating the problem — addiction — rather than punishing the symptom — crime — is the best way to help kids.”
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.