Page last updated: September 17, 2018

Community efforts to prevent teen problems have lasting benefits

A longitudinal study from the University of Washington Social Development Research Group shows that young adults who grew up in communities that used a coordinated, sciencebased approach to prevention were more likely to have abstained from substance use, violence and other antisocial behaviours.

Professors Richard Catalano and David Hawkins created Communities That Care, an approach that helps communities organise around prevention, choose programmes that are appropriate for their populations, and collect information on young people's experiences with alcohol, drug and tobacco use, and delinquency. The programme gives children, parents, teachers and community members the opportunities and tools to adopt and sustain healthy behaviours. It is now used in hundreds of cities and towns nationwide.

Researchers evaluated the effectiveness of the Communities That Care (CTC) prevention system by examining participant data over a 10-year period. The study was conducted among 4,400 youth participants in 24 rural communities in Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Towns were randomly assigned as "control" communities or as intervention communities. Control communities maintained whatever prevention programming was in place, while intervention communities used the CTC system to select evidence-based, preventionoriented programmes according to the risk factors that were found to be higher among their youth. Communities were asked to focus on grades five to nine.

Many intervention communities opted for three to five programmes over time, such as classroombased lessons in life skills, after-school activities like Big Brothers Big Sisters or parent-support classes. Training began in 2003, and selected programmes were launched in 2004, when the children were in sixth grade. Monitoring of the participants' behaviour continued for a decade through surveys.

The likelihood of abstaining from a "gateway drug" (alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana) through age 21 was 49% higher among participants from Communities That Care towns. CTC participants were 18% more likely to abstain through age 21 from criminal behaviour, such as vandalism, theft and illegal use of weapons. Among males, participants from intervention communities were significantly more likely to abstain through age 21 from cigarette smoking, marijuana and inhalant use, as well as from antisocial behavior and violence. These differences were smaller among females. Although more participants from intervention communities never engaged in these behaviours, the proportion who used drugs or engaged in criminal and violent behavior in the past year did not differ between control and intervention communities.

Source: Long-Term Effects of the Communities That Care Trial on Substance Use, Antisocial Behavior, and Violence Through Age 21 Years. S. Oesterle, MR Kuklinski, JD Hawkins, ML Skinner, K Guttmannova, IC Rhew. American Journal of Public Health 108, no. 5 (May 1, 2018): pp. 659-665. AJPH.2018.304320

All text and images © 2003 Alcohol In Moderation.