The Abraxas Foundation was started in Pennsylvania in 1973, in response to Requests for Proposals (RFP) from the Governor's Council on Drug and Alcohol Abuse. Abraxas's founder, Arlene Lis-sner, had been the deputy clinical director for the State of Illinois drug-abuse treatment system. There were two mandates to the RFP: (1) that a drug-treatment program be devised to directly serve the juvenile and adult justice system, and (2) that the program would utilize a then-abandoned U.S. forest-service camp, Camp Blue Jay, within the Allegheny National Forest. The original proposal stressed the development of a comprehensive program incorporating intensive treatment, education, and, of particular importance, a continuum of care to assist residents to reenter through regional reentry facilities. After an initial attempt to use only a behavioral approach, a Therapeutic Community (TC) model was implemented.

By 1988, all Abraxas facilities had focused their target populations solely on adolescents and had become gender specific. For example, Abraxas V in Pittsburgh was developed as an all-female residential facility. In 1990, an intensive project known as Non-Residential Care was developed to provide community-based transitional services to youngsters returning to Philadelphia after placement in state institutions. The success of this project led to its expansion to Pittsburgh. Inspired by the Non-Residential Care model, Supervised Home Services was developed later that year as a nonresidential reentry service for youngsters returning to Philadelphia from Abraxas's residential programs.

Education has been an integral part of the philosophy of treatment since Abraxas's inception. The Abraxas School, a private high school on the Abraxas I treatment campus, offers a full curriculum of courses and special educational services for the resident population. Alternative schools have been developed in Erie and Pittsburgh in recognition of the tremendous difficulty troubled adolescents have returning to public high schools. Abraxas has also extended its programming to include families of origin: The Abraxas Family Association meets in chapters throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia to offer education, group counseling, intervention, and referral work to the families of clients.

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