Natasha Slesnick, (505) 768-0146
Robert Meyers, (505) 842-8932
Steve Carr, (505) 277-1821
October 25, 2001
UNM CASAA AWARDED $2.7 MILLION TO TREAT HOMELESS YOUTH IN FIRST-EVER TREATMENT PROGRAM IN STATE
University of New Mexico Center for Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Addictions
(CASAA) Assistant Research Professor, Dr. Natasha Slesnick, has been awarded
two grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for $2.7 million for
Project STAR (Serving & Treating Albuquerques Runaways) and Project
TEAM (Treatment Evaluation and Adult Mentoring), programs that will provide
and test treatment for substance abuse among homeless street youth.
The first grant, a four-year, $2,205,354 million award, was given by the National
Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and is geared toward treatment only. The second,
a two-year grant awarded for $495,471 by the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment
(CSAT), will help fund both the treatment and a mentoring program. Both the
NIDA and the CSAT fall under the umbrella of the NIH.
The purpose of the grants is to work with homeless youth ages 14-20 who have
no place of shelter and are in need of services and shelter where he/she can
receive supervision and care.
These are one of the first treatment evaluation projects with street
youth in the country, said Slesnick. Homeless youth will be randomly
assigned to either the Community Reinforcement Approach and adult mentoring
or service as usual through a drop-in center. All youths will be contacted in
intervals of three and six months so that we can compare our intervention to
what the drop-in center provides.
The innovative treatment method being tested, the Community Reinforcement Approach
or CRA, was developed by Co-Investigator, Dr. Robert Meyers. The Community Reinforcement
Approach is an empirically-based multifaceted approach to substance abuse treatment
that also addresses many of the clinical needs of multi-problem homeless individuals.
The CRA uses a theoretical perspective based on the belief that environmental positive reinforcers (e.g., money, positive relationships) and punishers (e.g., health problems, loss of job) can play a powerful role in encouraging or discouraging behavior. CRA uses several different strategies to address the multiple problems that these youth face. CRA is multi-systemic in that it directs intervention to the individual and their relationships, as well as to social contexts that influence them.
Meyers states, CRA has been shown to be effective with several different
adult populations, including homeless adults. Because it is flexible and can
address a wide range of problems that people may have, were very optimistic
about this approach for street youth.
Located in Albuquerque, the participating drop-in center is Youth In Transition.
The center will serve as a recruiting facility for homeless youth. Some of these
youth were pushed-out of the home (forced to leave their home),
while others may have left their home without their parents permission
to escape physical/sexual abuse or high levels of family conflict.
There are lots of inherent problems working with street youth that many
therapists and researchers struggle with. There is no public policy guiding
how these youth should be served. And, these youth dont have a strong
voice in our society, said Slesnick. Well give each youth
a baseline assessment test to evaluate criminal history, alcohol and drug abuse,
HIV risk, negative affect, social stability and other related problem behaviors
so we can assess how treatment affected each of these areas. The goal is develop
an effective treatment for these youth, specifically.
Project TEAM will also utilize adult mentors for two years. The mentors will
meet with street youth weekly for 12 weeks during the treatment period to help
provide a positive experience with a trusted adult.
Many of these youth do not trust adults, said Slesnick. Through
the use of mentors, we hope they regain some of that trust.
Slesnicks interest in homeless and runaway youth, and to become a voice for troubled youth, started in graduate school where her emphasis was on family relationships, adolescent depression and substance abuse. She provided treatment to several families where the youth had run away from home in her postdoctoral appointment.
These families and youth had different struggles from other youth and
families and were particularly pained, Slesnick said. I became interested
and searched the research literature on treatment of runaway youth and families.
I was astonished to discover a great void in the literature on this population.
I found no studies evaluating treatment with these youth and families. This
led to my first grant application whose goal was to evaluate a family-based
treatment for runaway youth and develop a treatment manual for other providers.
Since that first grant, Slesnick and her co-investigators have received funding
for three additional grant projects, each exploring treatments for runaway and
For more information on Projects STAR or TEAM, or for anyone interested in becoming an adult mentor and working with street youth, call Isela Roeder, program manager, at (505) 768-0145.
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of New Mexico
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