Wondering how a whole community can take practical steps to support its youth? How can we help our children to better navigate the challenges they will inevitably face regarding substance abuse, relating to others, achieving success in school, making thoughtful choices?
One of the best tools available to schools and communities to assess youth attitudes and promote healthy behaviors is a factor-based prevention system called Communities That Care (CTC). Communities That Care is an initiative of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which is a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
"What makes Communities That Care system unique is that it enables communities to identify their own special issues so they can hand pick the right prevention programs," said Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Using the results of the Communities That Care Youth Survey, prevention strategies to support youth are customized to fit a community’s needs. Based on the work of Dr. J. David Hawkins and Dr. Richard F. Catalano, this research-based survey is designed to identify the levels of risk factors related to problem behaviors such as alcohol, tobacco and other drug use—and to identify the levels of protective factors that help guard against those behaviors. The survey also measures the actual prevalence of drug use, violence and other antisocial behaviors among surveyed students.
Just as medical researchers have found risk factors for heart disease, such as high-fat diets and smoking, research has defined a set of risk factors for substance abuse. We know that the more risk factors for heart disease present in a person, the more likely it is that person will suffer a heart attack. This is also true with risk factors for substance abuse and addiction.
The Georgetown School District conducted its first administration of the Communities that Care Youth Survey to our eighth, tenth and twelfth graders in February. The Georgetown Health and Wellness Advisory Committee recommended the Communities That Care Youth Survey as a tool of prevention, not prosecution. Completion of the survey was anonymous and voluntary. The results will be used as a baseline from which to measure future prevention efforts and action plans, also to provide information for state and federal grants. An announcement of results will be made to the community later this Spring.
Testing materials and administration were obtained through Northeast Centers for Healthy Communities, an affiliate of the MA Bureau of Substance Abuse Services, MA Department of Public Health. Test results will be interpreted and analyzed by a professional research and consulting firm, and reported back to our school committee and administration.
Once the risk and protective factors in the lives of Georgetown’s young people have been identified, this information will be used by both our schools and other community organizations that support youth to guide prevention efforts, to help address existing problems, and to promote healthy and positive youth development. Typically, a school or community selects three or four of the top factors in need of attention to develop action plans around.
Action plans are aimed at building up protective factors and reducing risk factors. Action plans based on Communities That Care survey results have been shown to substantially reduce the initial age for alcohol use, tobacco use, binge drinking, and other delinquent behaviors nationally. Recent NIDA research shows that for each dollar invested in research-based prevention programs, a savings of up to $10 in treatment for alcohol or other substance abuse can be seen.
The best prevention efforts are driven by youth and community needs. In Georgetown we are fortunate to have a school administration that recognizes how much the Communities That Care Youth Survey can help us to understand our youth and support their social-emotional health with prevention initiatives specifically developed to meet the needs of our children.