Growing numbers of youth are experimenting with alcohol and drugs at younger ages. Nearly a quarter of teens report having had five or more alcoholic drinks in one day, according to data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control. More than one-third have used marijuana.
There are hundreds of programs available across the country to help dissuade teens from going down the path of substance abuse. But what works?
PROSPER Partnerships – which stands for PROmoting School-community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience – is a model that links Cooperative Extension, public schools, local communities and university researchers to introduce evidence-based programs that prevent substance abuse among middle school students and their families.
There are already PROSPER networks in Iowa, Pennsylvania and Alabama. New York is lucky enough to be one of seven additional states in the process of forming a PROSPER Partnership with Cornell serving as the university partner.
That’s an exciting prospect for communities in New York. It means that families will have access to a menu of programs proven to work.
“There are many family and youth programs that are research-based, but that is not the same as having strong evidence behind them that the programs actually work,” explained Kim Kopko, an extension associate at Cornell’s Department of Policy Analysis, who is leading the PROSPER team at Cornell. “The programs on the PROSPER menu are evidence-based. They are carefully implemented and tested on the ground level. They’re time intensive, and expensive, but they work.”
There are five elements that make the program successful:
- A state-level partnership based in the land grant university system that is connected to the National PROSPER Network.
- Strategic community teams lead by a local extension educator, a key school district employee (typically a guidance counselor), and a variety of representatives from the community.
- Every community team oversees the implementation of one family and one school program that they choose.
- Community teams must move through a multi-phased developmental process focusing on long-term sustainability.
- State partners provide on-going evaluation to ensure the program remains successful.
PROSPER has plenty of evidence to prove that their system yields results. PROSPER Programs typically recruit 17 percent of eligible families in their communities, compared to less than six percent for other community programs.
Students who participate in the program are better at problem solving, more likely to refuse offers of alcohol and other drugs, less likely to believe that substance use has positive effects and more likely to delay initiation of substance use. And each $1 invested in the program yield about $9.60 of savings.
That’s good evidence-based practice at work, and a model that even more states should try to adopt.