Evaluation of PLEA Programs

The project involved a comprehensive evaluation of a series of programs operated by PLEA, a non-profit organization in British Columbia that offers a range of community-based addictions programs and justice services for youth in conflict with the law or at high risk for drug abuse.

Background

In 2007, PLEA sought to assess the effectiveness of its programs and formed a partnership with the McCreary Centre Society, a non-profit organization that aims to improve youth health in British Columbia through research and youth engagement. A third partner in the project was the Faculty of Child, Family and Community Studies at Douglas College. Students and faculty of the college have academic and applied interests in the types of services that PLEA offers and in the vulnerable youth they serve and many students complete field practicums at PLEA. Students were involved in all aspects of the assessment, including data collection, entry and analysis, and the presentation of the findings.

The project ran from July 2008 to January 2012 and relied on three methods:

  1. The completion of surveys by participants in six PLEA programs upon intake, discharge and six months post-discharge;
  2. A moderated focus group of seven participants; and
  3. Phone interviews with three staff members.

A total of 261 youth completed the initial survey, 128 of these completed the second survey upon discharge and 105 of these completed the final survey. Participants of non-residential programs completed most (64 percent) of the surveys. The goal of the assessment was to determine the impact of participation in PLEA programs on behaviour, social adjustment and emotional functioning.

Participants for the assessment were drawn from three categories of PLEA programs: addictions, youth outreach and youth justice.

  • Daughters and Sisters is a six-month, full-time, addiction treatment program for women aged 12 to 18. The program combines family care with intensive treatment to target the participants' needs, such as detoxification, individual and group counselling, parent-teen mediation, ongoing assessment, teacher-supervised education and social, cultural and recreational activities.
  • Waypoint is nearly identical to Daughters and Sisters, but is directed to men aged 12 to 18, and runs for four months.
  • ONYX is a youth-outreach program focused on victims of sexual exploitation. It provides access to health services, safe housing and one-on-one support.
  • Dare is a full-time, four- to six-month, community-based attendance program for youth on sentencing orders. Participants develop and follow individualized case plans that address educational, vocational and personal development.
  • A more rigorous version of Dare, ISSP (Intensive Support and Supervision Program) is designed to complement the work of youth probation officers.
  • Q - Creative Urban Employment is designed for at-risk youth who are not enrolled in school and have little or no job experience. It provides job opportunities along with life skills training.

Key findings

The assessment found that PLEA effectively targeted youth with high rates of risk behaviour and conditions (e.g. unstable housing, substance use and mental-health issues). It also found that rates of risk behaviour decreased and healthy behaviour increased from intake to discharge. In particular, participants reported lower rates of using certain substances, and fewer criminal charges and custody detainments. They were also less likely to be victims of physical abuse and sexual exploitation, and more likely to have stable housing.

Conclusion

PLEA's holistic, integrated and targeted approach to treatment helps at-risk youth with substance-abuse issues and/or in conflict with the law to adopt healthier behaviour. Post-discharge, participants are also more likely to attend school, become involved with the arts, develop money-management skills, secure jobs and access health and other services.

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