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Bold Step 1: Partner
People sitting on couches having a conversationYoung people’s substance abuse is an issue that connects schools, parents, law enforcement, and mental health providers. Prevention and intervention efforts can benefit greatly from the involvement of a broad coalition of community members, including not only these essential stakeholders but also municipal agencies, health care providers, students, and families.
 
Substance abuse in our youth population is a complex problem, causing damage to young people in many areas of their lives. Students who use alcohol or other drugs are at heightened risk for absenteeism and poor school achievement. Mental health is often a factor, as young people may be using substances to self-medicate for emotional, behavioral, or mental health disorders, or to mask the stress of family, environmental, or personal problems. And because the consumption of alcohol as well as drugs is illegal for minors, these children are likely to become involved with police and juvenile justice systems, bringing serious challenges to their chances at future success.
 
To combat substance abuse at all levels, it is essential to plan comprehensive, cross-sector efforts to change the environment in which students make choices about alcohol and other drugs. Combining school and community programming is more effective than delivering either in isolation, and can create lasting environmental change so that substance abuse is neither fostered nor accepted.
 
  • When considering potential partners to work with on this issue, remember that it will be important to bring together a continuum of substance abuse approaches, beginning with prevention and including intervention and treatment. The “Where Does Our Work Intersect?” tool may be helpful even before you assemble your team, as you plan strategically for a good balance. Significant cultural groups and other constituencies should be represented too, so that your programs can reach young people throughout your community. Here are a few ideas of partners to include — use your own network to tailor the list to your situation.
     
    • Local businesses may make good partners, and liquor stores in particular are often willing to be involved in prevention strategies targeting the sale of alcohol to minors.
    • School administrators may have data on youth substance abuse, and are in many cases already charged with reducing alcohol and drug use among their students.
    • Parents may want to connect with other parents, and with schools, to prevent teen drug use.
    • Public health departments may have expertise in social norms marketing and other environmental approaches to substance abuse prevention.
    • Many communities have funded substance abuse prevention coalitions that may already target youth substance abuse.
     
    Both the “Who Cares as Much as You Do?” tool and the “Think Broadly” activity may help you expand your list further to think of partners you may not have worked with in the past but who can bring key strengths to your coalition. Once you have identified a promising list of potential collaborators, take the time to prepare your invitation to each one so that the power of your initiative will come through loud and clear. Use the “Share Your Message” activity” and the "How Do We Make Our Case?” tool to make the most of each opportunity for contact.

     

  • Partnering on substance abuse prevention efforts brings together leaders from four key domains—law enforcement, schools, mental health, and parents---who may struggle with finding common ground, as each is charged with a different mission.  That’s okay – this range will become an asset as you design comprehensive programming. Make the effort up front to articulate the vision that unites you:  a community where youth are not harming themselves or others through the use of drugs or alcohol.  The “Where Does Our Work Intersect?” tool can help you map resources and familiarize yourselves with each other’s areas of focus, while the “Connect the Dots” activity will give you techniques for the important task of creating a shared vision. Acknowledge the importance of the role each partner plays; work to identify how each partner can contribute to prevention and to intervention and treatment programs and services.
     
    There are some challenging issues you may want to address early on:
     
    • Legal or professional obligations: What kind of action is each partner required to take regarding a youth caught using substances—under the law, by professional standards, or by the agency’s or school district’s policies?
    • Sharing student information: Federal laws protecting student privacy are particularly stringent regarding substance use, and may be difficult to negotiate even between school-based counselors, and school-based substance abuse providers. See Information Sharing for useful explanations and tips.
    • Sharing data:  Law enforcement professionals and parents may want data on student drug and alcohol use to be made public, while schools may wish to keep this kind of data out of the public eye.
     
    Use the “How Do We Create an Agreement for Working Together?” tool to create a document that describes how you will address such issues.
     
Bold Step 2: Plan
A group of people sitting together and planningTo get started, partners will need a full understanding of your community’s particular needs and resources in substance abuse prevention.  A plan based on this information will help you identify your desired outcomes and line up resources and supports to achieve them. Your plan should also include strategies for handling unanticipated challenges.
 
An excellent resource is the Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF), developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The SPF provides an overarching model and series of steps to develop a data-driven plan for substance abuse prevention that incorporates a sustainable, culturally competent, capacity-building approach.  It is meant to be used by a coalition, not a single agency or school district.
 
 
 
  • Your successful plan will be based on a thorough assessment of substance abuse and prevention efforts for minors in your community. “What’s Really Happening?” is an activity to help you build a robust plan for collecting this essential baseline information, and the “How Do We Know What’s Happening?” tool includes charts and checklists you can use in the process. You’ll need both school-based and community-based data, such as surveys about youth substance use, hospital records regarding emergency room visits related to substance abuse, arrest records involving juveniles and substance use, medical examiner reports on juvenile mortality involving substance use, and focus groups or interviews with teens, parents, and other key informants.  Consider these suggestions as you assess needs and resources:
     
    • Identifying and assessing risk and protective factors for youth substance abuse is an important piece of many effective prevention efforts; increasing protective factors as well as reducing risk factors can impact youth substance abuse.
    • Community resources may come from sources you have not tapped for other efforts—for instance, committed business owners, parent leaders, and student leadership groups.
    • Youth substance abuse trends and patterns change quickly; find partners who can keep you updated about emerging drugs of choice.
  • With the “Create Your Plan” activity, you will learn how to build in key elements to clarify and organize the work you are undertaking. The “How Do We Create Our Roadmap?” tool offers a logical progression of questions to work through, so that your plan will have a natural momentum toward success. Given the breadth of your partnership and the differences in goals those partners bring, your plan may need to address several different levels of work, from school-based interventions that strengthen protective factors in middle school students, to referral protocols for students arrested for possession of illegal substances.  Be sure to make clear the differing responsibilities partners will assume for implementing activities and services. 
     
    Substance abuse prevention efforts are increasingly using evidence-based environmental strategies that target community norms and local policies regulating the sale or provision of alcohol.  These strategies can be used as complements to individually focused efforts such as school-based prevention curricula. 
     

     

  • Whatever activities and programs your plan includes, planning for the infrastructure to support your efforts should be part of how you approach implementation.  This is the focus of the “Create Infrastructure” activity, which explains the “TEAM CPR” framework of essential implementation components. The accompanying “How Do We Build for Success?” tool includes checklists for evidence-based programs. If your school district introduces a classroom-based prevention curriculum, work to ensure that teachers and staff will continue to have the training and problem-solving opportunities they will need over the long term.  If your partnership trains youth and youth workers to perform ‘shoulder taps’ as an intervention targeting alcohol sales to minors, look for ways that a broad base of existing youth program staff can learn how to participate.   Make sure your partnership continues to meet and review data on how implementation is going, and evaluate whether your efforts are having the results you seek.  Much can be gained by a careful review of process data, which can reveal unexpected barriers to successful program implementation. Look for ongoing roles for both parents and youth. They can help you stay connected to emerging needs and norms related to teen drug and alcohol use in your community.  

Bold Step 3: Act
A middle aged lady talks to two teenage girls at a community event

The third step is where the rubber meets the road!  It’s time for you and your partners to implement your plan.  Strive for excellence in implementation.  

Monitor what’s happening and use your data to adjust programming if necessary.  Be sure to communicate regularly with your partners and engage them to promote your success.

 

 

 

 

  • Your plan should take into account the specific contexts where your interventions and programs will be implemented: for instance, school calendars will drive how you plan for classroom and school-based components to be used.  Community events may provide opportunities to piggyback your efforts and reach a larger audience with messages and materials. Make sure that partners understand clearly which specific tasks belong to each agency, especially when a program or intervention spans several contexts.  Partners’ review of process data may uncover problems that have to be resolved if program implementation is to be worth the effort it has taken.  For example, if a program turns out not to be feasible for the intended staff to implement, another may need to be substituted, or efforts focused elsewhere.  Build in data collection efforts as part of your plan, and begin them immediately—don’t wait until your first program year goes by to review data!  

  • Make sure to plan for success. Together, the “Create a Legacy” activity and the “How Can We Sustain Our Efforts?” tool will help you look ahead, aiming for long-term improvements in your community’s coordinated response to substance abuse among youth. This outlook applies to every level of your work, from securing the permanent adoption of effective programs, to nurturing strong inter-agency relationships, to seeking out steady funding sources.
     
    When your efforts yield positive outcome data, for example a drop in 30-day alcohol use by middle school students, your partnership should share that data in ways that reward your implementers and build community support.   Positive outcomes can also create openness within schools and agencies to establishing policies and protocols to keep implementation in place.  For instance, if a simple screening tool successfully identifies youth with alcohol problems, your health clinic may be willing to make the tool a regular component of all teen yearly physicals. 
     
    Finally, don’t forget to share your success!  Use the “How Do We Use Data to Communicate?” tool to help you create messages tailored for each of your audiences.