• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Thursday 23rd April, 2015

Healthy communities: cutting risk, increasing protection

The Communities That Care programme has been shown to reduce risk factors for youth problem behaviour. But the absence of risk is not the same as the presence of protection. Now a new study suggests that CTC also increases protective factors like social skills, healthy friendships, and recognition for good behaviour.

Kids grow up in communities. The contexts of neighborhood, family, school, and friends affect young people’s behaviour – for better or worse. So programmes are increasingly being developed that target not individual children or families, but whole communities.

Communities That Care (CTC) is one of these, focused on 10- to 14-year-olds and their families and schools. In past studies, communities that implemented CTC saw lower incidence of substance use and less delinquent behaviour than comparison communities.

These positive outcomes may partly come from reduced risk factors. However, a new analysis shows that CTC not only reduces risk factors linked to adolescent problem behaviour, but shows promise in strengthening protective factors.

Communities That Care is a prevention system, where different community stakeholders collaborate to implement policies and programmes known to reduce the risks and strengthen protective factors faced by youth in four domains: community, family, school, and peer/individual.

After assessing risk in the community, two to five predominant factors are targeted with interventions chosen from a list of evidence-based programmes. Each community chooses programmes that seem best suited to their needs, so no two CTC “treatments” are identical.

According to the model’s social development theory, young people benefit from opportunities, skills, and recognition in each domain of their lives. First, they need the opportunity for prosocial involvement, such as the chance to participate in conversations with teachers, classmates, and family. Second, they need skills to succeed in these interactions. Third, they need recognition for prosocial involvement, such as getting positive feedback from neighbors, parents, teachers, and friends for good behaviour.

These three, taken together, promote a young person’s sense of attachment, commitment, and belonging to the group. This bonding in turn promotes acceptance of group standards of behaviour.

In the CTC programme, communities are required to provide developmentally appropriate opportunities for young adolescents to be actively and positively involved with families, schools and communities. In addition to this, they are encouraged to provide youth with recognition for their involvement and to equip them with the necessary skills.

CTC was tested from 2003-2008 in the Community Youth Development Study (CYDS), a community trial in 24 communities across seven U.S. states. Twelve pairs of communities matched on various factors were randomly assigned to follow the CTC model or not. Over 4,400 youth aged 10-14 were surveyed from grade five to grade eight to assess the effect.

This analysis was carried out by researchers from the Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington, including one of CTC’s developers.

Overall levels of protective factors were higher among the CTC communities than among the comparison communities at the end of 8th grade. Remarkably, the CTC communities did better than comparison communities on every one of the 15 protective factors that were measured, although not all differences were statistically significant.

Of the four domains of family, community, school and peers, the CTC communities saw significantly higher average levels of protective factors in all but family.

The most notable differences were found in four specific protective factors: opportunities for prosocial involvement in the community, recognition for prosocial involvement in school, interaction with prosocial peers, and social skills.

CTC appears to do three things well: lower risk factors, enhance protective factors, and reduce adolescent problem behaviour. What is not known yet, however, is precisely how these relate to each other. Determining how the increase in community levels of protection links to changes in adolescent problem behaviour and healthy youth development will make these findings more useful.

Investigating whether the higher protection levels are sustained over time and what outcomes are achieved through the increase in protection levels in the longer term are also next steps in developing the model.

Kim, B. E., Gloppen, K. M., Rhew, I. C., Oesterle, S., & Hawkins, J. D. (2014). Effects of the Communities That Care Prevention System on Youth Reports of Protective Factors. Prevention Science, DOI 10.1007/s11121-014-0524-9.

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