Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research

The engagement of young people in drug interventions in coercive contexts: findings from a cross-national European study

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  • Karen Duke, Middlesex University, United Kingdom
  • Helen Gleeson, Middlesex University, United Kingdom
  • Katarzyna Dabrowska , Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology, Warsaw, Poland
  • Maria Herold
  • Sara Rolando, Eclectica, Italy
Background: The engagement of young people has been a neglected area in youth justice and drug policy and practice. This paper explores the concept of ‘engagement’ in relation to drug interventions in custodial and community settings in different European countries.

Methods: Interviews were undertaken with young people (aged 14–25 years) in contact with the criminal justice system who use illegal drugs and with practitioners involved in the delivery of interventions for our target group in Denmark, Italy, Poland, and the UK.

Results: The key techniques to engage young people were described in similar terms across the countries. These included forming relationships based on trust, honesty, and empathy, setting goals collaboratively, and employing practitioners with lived experience and understanding. The objectives and activities on offer are often constrained by criminal justice contexts.

Conclusions: Despite the differences between the countries in terms of criminal justice systems and the structure of drug interventions, there were remarkable similarities in the ways young people and practitioners described effective engagement. Strong emphasis on operational engagement to ensure positive relationships between young people and practitioners was important in the design and delivery of interventions. Practitioners working in criminal justice contexts need to have flexibility and autonomy to work creatively to find ways to engage, connect, and inspire young people.
Original languageEnglish
JournalDrugs: Education, Prevention and Policy
Pages (from-to)26-35
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2021

    Research areas

  • Young people, criminal justice system, adolescents, engagement, drug involvement, prevention, practitioners, European, intervention, BEHAVIOR, YOUTH

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