of a Family-Based Substance Abuse Prevention Program
in Rural Communities
Published in The Journal of Primary Prevention, Vol 18, No. 3, 1998
The program used a positive approach to family enrichment. Rather than being a program which was publicized as preventing something negative (substance abuse), it was marketed as an opportunity for families to enhance their interactions. The program was consistently and conscientiously promoted as something that all families could benefit from rather than a program that some families "needed." Participation was based upon attraction rather than coercion.
School domain. The FIA program was held in partnership and cooperation with participating schools. Publicity about the program was regularly (although not solely) sent out through the schools, on school letterhead, and with school personnel's signatures. Sessions were held in the school classrooms and libraries, providing an opportunity for parents to have a warm, nurturing experience in the school environment. The fifth session focused on the topic of school success, and school personnel attended. Parents had the opportunity to assess their own behaviors in relationship to the school and were given information about how they could become involved in a positive way with their young person's school career.
Students met in a separate group during this phase of the program. They also learned about opportunities for school success through social, academic, behavioral, and other avenues. In addition, they set school-related goals for themselves during this session. This component of the curriculum was developed in cooperation with school personnel.
Peer domain. The communication skills that parents and youth were taught to use with each other were also useful to youth in their peer interactions. Through the team-building activities included in the youth sessions, students learned how to relate to peers in positive ways. Students also practiced effective peer pressure resistance skills and the avoidance of ATODS. Students who attended the program signed a "no use of ATODs agreement" and discussed logical consequences for violation of this agreement. Thus, student participants developed a peer group which had made a commitment to "zero tolerance."
Community domain. The program was provided in each school district by persons from the community served by that school. Parent group leaders, student group leaders and other program staff were recruited based upon recommendations from the school that they were persons of sound character and good reputation in the community. In rural cornmunities, everyone knows one another and families would not attend if the group leader had a negative reputation. Parent group leaders were recruited on the basis of having had nurturing parenting experiences and being able to lead group discussions in a nonjudgmental fashion. Student group leaders were recruited on the basis of having a reputation for treating youth with respect, knowing how to make learning fun, and having good behavior management skills. In some communities, the most effective staff were professionals who worked in the school or in a human service agency. In other communities, the most effective staff were individuals with strong community ties and service experience who did not necessarily have a college education. The success of an individual or a certain "type" of individual depended upon the social norms and expectations within the given community. In some of these rural communities a college education and professional training was valued; in others they were viewed with suspicion.
Program staff made presentations at human services organizations, civic groups, and churches so that community leaders would be aware of the program and would encourage their eligible members to participate. Also, the business community contributed by: 1) displaying program posters in their windows; 2) providing door prized for program participants; 3) providing incentives for evaluation activities; and 4) donating program T-shirts.
The development of a community norm for FLA participation was a major goal of the program. Families from all walks of life participated. This made it possible to reach families without labeling them as "high-risk" families. The development of a community norm for program participation also helped to create a critical mass of families within the community who subscribed to similar standards of behavior for children and who valued their students' success in school.
The FIA program regularly published a quarterly newsletter containing relevant parenting information designed to reinforce topics taught in the structured sessions. It also contained information about upcoming programs and family reunions. This was sent to all program graduates and to other families with students in the target age group. It functioned simultaneously as a marketing tool and as a method for reinforcing what graduates had learned in the program.
The FIA program was eventually introduced into eight schools; the evaluation focused on the four schools in which it was first implemented. During the 1993 school year, 58 students and 61 parents from these four schools completed the program. The comparison group was comprised of 510 students and 443 parents who completed the baseline evaluation survey (described below) but did not choose to participate in this voluntary program. As noted in previous sections, the targeted grade for FLA participation was the entry school year: 6th grade for middle schools and 7th grade for junior high schools.
Demographic profile of the communities. According to U.S. Census data (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1991), the largely rural area in which the evwuation was conducted had 39,344 residents; there were 7,120 children enrolled in school. A primary industry was tourism. The majority of the people in this rural area did not own or work their own farm, rather they worked as laborers or in service jobs. Ninety-six percent of the population was Caucasian. Twenty-one percent of the children in the county lived below the poverty line.