Seven (Easy) Steps to Creating a Transition Policy for Juvenile Drug Court Team Members

By Wendy L. Schiller, Project Coordinator, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

Juvenile Drug Court (JDC) professionals are innovative, dedicated professionals who often get promoted, are appointed to work in other areas of the court, or find new career paths. For this reason there is a substantial amount of turnover among JDC team members. In some cases, there may just be burn-out, as working on a JDC team is extremely demanding. Because this issue permeates most jurisdictions that have a JDC program, it is important to implement a process to “transition” new team members onto the existing drug court team. Keep the transition plans simple. Focus on 1) what new team members need to know, and 2) the best way for new team members to learn about their role on the JDC.

Below are some tips or strategies that will assist teams in creating a well-thought out transition policy for new JDC team members, which will also benefit the youth and families they serve:

1. Create “Learning Packets.”

A JDC program should have several “Learning Packets” on hand to give to new and incoming team members. These packets can serve as training materials because it is extremely important for team members who have not worked with adolescents or in the juvenile drug court field to engage in some “pre-work” before joining the team and working with the youth and families. This packet should include a current list of contact information for stakeholders and team members, an updated community partnership map, a current participant guide, and a current policy and procedure manual. In addition, there are several publications which will help new team members better understand the philosophy behind juvenile drug courts, as well as adolescent development and ways to further comprehend this population. Below is a list of resources that would be helpful to add to the Learning Packet:

  • The Juvenile Drug Court Strategies in Practice
  • Managing and Sustaining Your Juvenile Drug Court
  • Ensuring Fidelity to the 16 Strategies in Practice
  • Using “Sober Support” Groups in Your Juvenile Court
  • Exploring the Evidence: The Value of Juvenile Drug Courts
  • 7 Things Juvenile Courts Should Know About Learning Disabilities
  • Ten Things Every Juvenile Court Judge Should Know About Trauma and Delinquency

All of these publications are housed and can be downloaded from the Juvenile Drug Court Information Center, located on NCJFCJ’s website.

2. Shadow existing team members.

Teams should make a concerted effort to give incoming members an opportunity to work with the outgoing member to get a good “feel” for the position and what their role will be on the team. Consider drafting a checklist (these should be role-dependent) of duties or information that should be conveyed during the day so nothing is forgotten or accidentally skipped. See example checklist for a new JDC coordinator below:

JDC Coordinator Checklist

  • Review incentives and sanction tracking procedure
  • Review file sharing procedure
  • Review pre-court staffing structure

3. Give new team members a way to gain ownership in the JDC.

Transitioning to working on a JDC can be difficult for new team members. The JDC philosophy often feels foreign and is generally very different from the more traditional “adversarial” court process. Creating a way for new team members to have input on JDC policies is a great way to get them up to speed on the fundamental concepts underlying the program and provides a way for them to have input and gain ownership in the program. For example, many JDCs revisit and update their Community Map on a yearly basis. Assigning new team members to be part of the working group for the Community Map project allows them to have input and buy-in to the program.

Frequently new team members may challenge the status quo of the JDC. This can be an opportunity for the JDC team to revisit the reasons why the drug court exists, address policy issues, and analyze the need for changes in structure and practice.

4. When new members join the JDC team, facilitate a team-building activity.

Teams should be encouraged to work on a simple activity or exercise when new members join the team. The activity described below (This I Believe Activity) may prove to be very helpful as a team building exercise, as well as a great opportunity for team members (new and old) to reflect on their individual role on the team. The activity generally takes around 20 minutes. Consider doing this during the first pre-court staffing or during another team meeting such as a brown-bag lunch. See below for full instructions:

On National Public Radio there is a series called This I Believe. Please visit the NPR website to listen to a news piece in the series. This segment describes the background of the series, why it is important to get diverse opinions, and why these opinions can create a web or connection between diverse populations. Because each team member comes from different agencies or backgrounds professionally, it is important to hear the individual beliefs connected to working within a juvenile drug court and the program itself.

Activity: Choose a team member to lead or facilitate. If possible share the following essay with the team – Frederic Reamer’s essay, “The Real Consequences of Justice”, which can be found at the This I Believe website. This essay in particular applies to the justice system.

Ask team members to create their own “This I Believe” statement centered on their views, vision, or expectations for working as a team member in a juvenile drug court program. For example:

  • I believe the juvenile drug court in my community will give access to valuable resources to youth struggling with substance abuse.
  • I believe I will be a valuable team member on our JDC team because I am a court-appointed defense attorney, and I protect the rights of the youth that are involved in the system.
  • I believe a JDC will reduce recidivism rates among youth that abuse alcohol and other drugs.

Guide team members through this process. Feel free to use one of the examples above or create your own “This I Believe” statements regarding your JDC. Have each team member read their statement aloud to the other team members and then discuss the commonalities in each of the statements. The number of commonalities may surprise everyone.

5. Don’t forget about the youth and families!

It may seem confusing for participants and family members to walk into court one week and find that the JDC coordinator whom they have been working with, and come to trust and even like, has left and been replaced by someone they have never seen before. To alleviate this type of confusion, it is suggested that teams design an orientation group session for youth and families to meet new team members. This will, hopefully, provide a seamless transition for the participants. Below are a few tips the team should consider:

  • Have the orientation correspond with bi-weekly or weekly court sessions that are already in place.
  • Have the outgoing and incoming team members make a few comments to the group.
  • A short question and answer segment will give participants and families an opportunity to ask any questions that are weighing on their minds.
  • Suggest that the new team member provide a treat or snacks for the orientation (or the team – make it a celebration).
  • Give families updated program materials (i.e., contact information sheets/brochures).

In addition, when a new team member joins the JDC team it is important to take the time to update all program materials as soon as possible. Because JDC participants rely so heavily on JDC team members, updates or additions need to be made so that youth and families will know who to call and how to contact them. Participants are required to do many, many things while they are in the program, and making this an easy process will help decrease any confusion and mishaps that may make a situation worse than it has to be.

6. Introduce the new team members to the Stakeholder Committee.

It is important to keep current stakeholders engaged in the JDC “happenings” (i.e., program outcomes, upcoming events, and new team members). Organize a meeting to introduce new team members to the current stakeholder committee members. This can coincide with a quarterly meeting schedule or you can organize a meeting just to introduce the incoming member (i.e., brown-bag lunch or a pizza night). Much like an orientation for the youth and families, try to make this transition very strength-based and celebratory.

7. Codify the transition policy in the JDC procedure manual.

Consider having a designated team member role to compile transition packets, update contact information and programs guides, coordinate shadowing efforts, and orientate current youth and families. Designating a specific “role” on the JDC team instead of an actual person will alleviate having to find another person on the team to complete the task, if that particular person leaves for one reason or another. Within the procedure manual, have a detailed checklist to assist the incoming team member who will take over this responsibility.


Wendy L. Schiller is the Technical Assistance Manager at the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ). Ms. Schiller has worked for NCJFCJ for nine years, and as a Technical Assistance Manager, she coordinates all forms of technical assistance (office-based and on-site), facilitates team retreats and strategic planning meetings, and researches evidence-based practices for juvenile drug courts across the nation. Ms. Schiller specializes in developing work plans for juvenile drug courts that request on-site technical assistance and works closely with teams to implement changes in their programs. In addition, Ms. Schiller has presented on such topics as “Incentives & Sanctions in Juvenile Drug Court”, “What is a Juvenile Drug Court” and “Using Sober Support Groups in Your Juvenile Court” on a National level. Ms. Schiller has served as editor for three publications produced by NCJFCJ: Managing and Sustaining Your Juvenile Drug Court, Ensuring Fidelity to the Juvenile Drug Courts Strategies in Practice—A Program Component Scale, and Using “Sober Support” Groups in Your Juvenile Court. Ms. Schiller has an Associate in Arts degree from Truckee Meadow Community College, with an emphasis in Para legalism and is currently working toward her degree in Criminal Justice at the University of Nevada, Reno.