What Works in Community Programs
Right out of the gates, I must say that I am not going to recommend specific programs at this time. Although I have definate leanings toward our own "Strengthening Families Program" and its derivatives, I can only say that, at this juncture, I think it is more useful to look at what types of work we should be engaging in and how that work would look, not simply to adopt whatever programs seems passable.
The wonderful survey ASAP did a few years back is very telling about what Quay County residents seem to think is our most pressing needs. Substance abuse and deliquent youth issues were far above all others. If we are to remain responsive to our communities, we would do well to adopt these as our key indicators that we would like to effect.
So, what things have been proven to move these two issues, and what methods might work in our communities?
My readings cannot be all-inclusive for numerous reasons. My conclusions are going be tainted by many variables and my own attitudes. My hope is that this commentary will stir up interest in more people to study the literature so that our collective perception, which is much more likely to be factual than my own, will emerge and guide our actions.
Attributes of Success
- Prevention is much better than treatment. Most of my studies agree that it is easier to never start doing something than it is to try to stop.
- Kids are more often reached in their normal places and schedules. This requires efforts that actually go where the children are. Although this would seem to point to schools, the next item causes a problem. It seems to help if you reach kids where they like to be, rather than where they must be, like school.
- School-based interventions rarely work for long. Though work done through schools is often effective during an intensive program, these behavioral gains do not last after a program ends and often those gains are not reflected outside of school even during the program. School-based programs can change school behavior, but often do NOT change home or public behavior, where most problem behaviors occur. Also, school-based interventions are often at the whim of administration and regulation which change with every new educational fad or school board whim, making them unstable partners. Also, "social" programs are considered ancillary or even invasive to regular school instruction and are allowed little time or resources. Pep rallies are more important than substance abuse prevention in a time/resource sense, for example.
- Grouping "good" kids with "bad" kids can cause new problems. Some studies found that community programs that bring many children together unintentionally begin deliquent behavior in kids that were not troubling before. This happens because such programs foster more intensive groups than other settings. "One bad apple spoils the bunch" may be very true.
- Addressing the basic needs of children early can help prevent a host of problems.
- Child-only interventions can actually increase distance from family and cause further dilenquency. When therapy only works with a child and doesn't include the whole family, added problems often arise. Most therapists are getting away from child-only models and promoting whole-family therapies.
- If intervention comes from someone who cares about the person/family, it will be far more effective. This means an interventionist must look on their efforts as "more" than a job. Getting close to those who are worked with opens up new opportunities to help bring needed change. This is why parents have a stronger influence on their children than others: they often love their kids.