Preventing Problem Behaviors in Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults: Efficacy of School, Family, and Community Interventions

Friday, January 16, 2015: 4:30 PM-6:15 PM
La Galeries 5, Second Floor (New Orleans Marriott)
Cluster: Adolescent and Youth Development
Symposium Organizer:
Jeffrey M. Jenson, PhD, University of Denver
Young people require knowledge, skills, and positive support from friends, teachers, parents, and community members to be successful in today’s complex world. On the surface, these rather basic requirements imply the need to implement early and consistent support services for children, youth, and parents. Yet, historically, practice and policy initiatives aimed at supporting children, adolescents, and young adults have concentrated on treating and/or controlling young people who have evidenced problem behavior. Accordingly, considerable financial resources are devoted each year to practice and policy efforts aimed at rehabilitating troubled children and youth exhibiting such problems as delinquency, violence, substance abuse, or school drop-out (Catalano, 2007; Woolf, 2008). Few people would disagree with the idea that treatment is necessary for many young people with behavior problems. However, the nation’s interest in rehabilitation has, in many respects, acted as a detriment to advancing efforts designed to prevent problems from occurring in the first place. Herein lays the challenge of making prevention an essential part of a national strategy to support children, youth, and young adults.

Historically, prevention programs to help young people avoid the pitfalls associated with antisocial and negative behaviors have been implemented in school, family, and community settings. Early prevention efforts dating to the 1960s produced relatively few positive results. However, significant strides have been made in preventing child and adolescent problem behavior in the past several decades. A public health framework based on targeting known risk and protective factors for childhood problems has emerged as a model to guide the design, implementation, and evaluation of prevention programs in schools, families, and communities (O’Connell, Boat, & Warner, 2009). Equally important, effective interventions that strive to reduce risk, enhance protection, and improve positive outcomes among children, youth, and young adults have been systematically identified. Many of these interventions have also been shown to be cost-effective when compared to costly treatment and control approaches (Aos et al., 2011). Finally, interest in prevention policy has increased at the federal level, illustrated by the recent release of a national prevention strategy aimed at improving citizens’ health and wellness (U.S. Surgeon General, 2011).

A reinvigorated interest in preventing child and adolescent problem behaviors represents a significant step forward in supporting young people and their parents. Social work practitioners, policy experts, and child advocates have recently placed greater emphasis on developing, implementing, and testing social programs and interventions aimed at preventing child, adolescent, and young adult problem behaviors like substance abuse, delinquency, violence, and school dropout. In this symposium, authors trace the evolution and current status of preventive interventions in school, family, and community settings. Findings from systematic reviews of the empirical evidence pertaining to the efficacy of school, family, and community prevention programs are presented. Implementation and methodological lessons gained from these systematic reviews and from randomized prevention trials conducted by each of the symposium authors are presented and discussed. Implications for advancing prevention practice, policy, and research are delineated.

* noted as presenting author
Empirical Evidence and Characteristics of School-Based Prevention Approaches for Preventing Child and Youth Problem Behavior
Jeffrey M. Jenson, PhD, University of Denver; Kimberly A. Bender, PhD, University of Denver
Effective Family-Based Approaches for Preventing Child and Youth Problem Behavior
Kimberly A. Bender, PhD, University of Denver; Jeffrey M. Jenson, PhD, University of Denver
Community Interventions for Preventing Adolescent and Young Adult Substance Abuse
J. David Hawkins, PhD, University of Washington; Sabrina Oesterle, PhD, University of Washington; Abagail Fagan, PhD, University of Florida; Robert D. Abbott, PhD, University of Washington; Richard F. Catalano, PhD, University of Washington
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