SIROW Collaborating on Two New Projects to Aid Adolescents

The Southwest Institute for Research on Women at the University of Arizona has been tapped yet again by agencies working to expand and enhance services for adolescents in southern Arizona.

The institute, SIROW, is introducing two new collaborative projects to continue care and recovery support.

"Step Forward – Health Education for Youth: Treatment and Intervention Program and Services for Tucson Youth" will focus on HIV-prevention.

"Recover2gether – Recovery Support Services for Families" is a subcontract that will offer substance abuse treatment and recovery services for youth and their families.

Announcement of the new projects are a boon for SIROW, which also has just received a $1.75 million Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, grant to support local youth and young adults who are homeless and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning.

That grant-funded SAMSA project, "i-TEAM: A Treatment Enhancement for Adolescents on the Move," will focus on housing, mental health and substance abuse issues.

"These three grants together brought $2.65 million to SIROW over the next several years," said Sally Stevens, SIROW's executive director. "I think that is significant in terms of what we're doing and ways in which we are working on issues in the community."

The Recover2gether project is part of a nationwide effort that is targeting adolescents and families.

In addition to SIROW, Illinois-based Chestnut Health Systems contracted three other sites – Seattle, Bloomington, Ill. and Fitchburg , Mass. for the pilot study, which is evaluating several support services to determine what is necessary to best aid adolescents post-treatment.

SIROW, which will get $150,000 from Chestnut's SAMHSA grant, is helping to develop, administer and evaluate Recover2gether to examine recovery services following treatment, Stevens said.

The problem, she added, is in stopping treatment without follow-up. "People may be healthy for a while, but when the treatment stops there isn't a lot of support there."

Recover2gether, which will involve testing support services, attempts to fill that void by offering telephone monitoring, social networking sites focused on recovery as well as the Community Reinforcement Approach Family Training program.

"We're not just interested in providing the service; we're interested in understanding what works and in trying to promote what works," Stevens said.

Recover2gether is part of the Recovery Services for Adolescents and Families initiative, which is sponsored by SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

At the crux of the project is an effort to develop a "full continuum of service" for those receiving substance abuse treatment, said Bridget Ruiz, an associate research professor with SIROW who is the project's principal investigator.

Specifically, SIROW will evaluate the effectiveness of family support groups, telephone conversations and the use of a secure social networking site that Chestnut is developing.

"In the adult literature for substance abuse treatment, we find that relapse occurs frequently. That's something we also find in the literature on adolescents," Ruiz said. "It is thought that these services will help reduce relapse by providing the youth and family ongoing support."

The project is "a youth-centered approach to recovery support," Ruiz said. "As we know, most models have been developed by and for adults, then adapted for adolescents."

In particular, involving the family and social networking sites are expected to further engage youth, she said.

The project taps into both SIROW's expertise on substance abuse prevention and treatment and also Chestnut's expansive database on adolescents.

"Chestnut has been instrumental in developing one of the largest adolescent substance abuse treatment databases in the country," Ruiz said, noting that the organization has tracked more than 40,000 cases.

"So we have a better understanding of what works for kids, and what doesn't work," she said. "Substance abuse treatment is really moving toward a more chronic care approach, rather than an acute care approach."

She noted that ongoing support has proven to be effective in helping people continue to abstain.

SIROW also will be collaborating with CODAC Behavioral Health Services. CODAC has received a $2.25 million grant from SAMHSA to, among other things, offer the Step Forward Project, and is providing SIROW with a grant for more than $702,000.

The project continues a collaboration between SIROW and CODAC that lasted for a five-year period beginning in 2002, which provided youth in juvenile detention with substance abuse education. The two have collaborated on a number of other projects.

"One of the benefits of the ways SIROW's research is conducted is the extent of the community involvement, which is forming strong partners with other organizations," said Claudia Powell, SIROW's associate research social scientist.

For the new Step Forward project, Aimee Graves, CODAC's senior director of child and family services, is the principal investigator on the Step Forward grant. Other collaborators are the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation, or SAAF, and the Pima County Juvenile Court.

The project will target as many as 400 Tucson area youth who are between the ages of 12 and 17 over a five-year period, with the majority of them being detained in the Pima County Juvenile Court Center.

SIROW has a "major role" in the project, said Powell, who is serving as the project evaluator.

Beginning in January, SIROW will facilitate its Health Education for Youth treatment, intervention and education curriculum, involving health care specialists from SIROW, SAAF and CODAC.

The comprehensive eight-session curriculum, which will be offered twice a week for four weeks. It is designed to inform youth via through a set of interactive courses about the prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted illnesses, issues regarding sexuality and healthy relationships.

During the five-year grant period, a portion of the teenagers involved will receive co-occurring treatment centered on substance abuse and mental health needs. About 80 percent of the total number of youth involved also will have HIV-testing and counseling.

All the while, SIROW staff will evaluate the program's effectiveness, assessing all of the youth involved.

"Typically youth who are adjudicated may engage in higher risk behaviors as far as sexual health is concerned, which is why we are targeting this particular group," said Powell, who is also the principal investigator for SIROW on the Step Forward subcontract.

"Schools are not offering this type of curriculum," Powell added, "so a large number of adolescents are lacking accurate information in this area."

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Communications