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National Conference on Drug Abuse Prevention Research:
Presentations, Papers, and Recommendations

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Work Group Reports

Work Group on Prevention Through the Family

Thomas J. Dishion, Ph.D., Reporter


National Conference on Drug Abuse Prevention Research

Our work group focused our comments on three areas: parent involvement and barriers, bridging the gap between research at NIDA and implementation in the community, and future directions.

A representative of the National PTA was involved in our work group and pointed out that PTAs have noticed that parent involvement has been decreasing over the past 10 years. We need to be mindful and conscious of a significant barrier to prevention programs that aim at parents, and that there may be some structural constraints to parent involvement, such as parents' work schedules, that are significant barriers. Other barriers to parent involvement may be a sense of hopelessness, including subtle and not-so-subtle messages that parents cannot affect some of the problems in drug use and other problem behaviors that are prevalent today.

Another barrier may be the time and the type of demands we make on parents in our prevention programs. The 16-session, 2-hour-a-week parent groups are demanding and unrealistic for many parents, despite their good intentions. How might we get beyond these barriers with some positive solutions? The work group suggested that we limit the demands and time needed for interventions, be more focused, be briefer, and be more relevant as much as possible.

It was suggested that we need more of a paradigm shift, that parents need to be involved at the policymaking level or at a level where we would have more parents attending meetings such as this one. Parents need to be included not only in the solution but also in [articulating] the problem. Another possible approach to increasing parent involvement is to "pitch" this problem more as a child-centered health issue and less as a drug use or violence issue.

Most people did not select their prevention programs on the basis of research for several reasons. First, research-based programs are expensive for most local implementers to utilize. Also, consumers often have trouble separating the passion of the research group from the usefulness of the program. Another issue was that many other political, personal, intuitive, and State funding factors take priority. For example, State funding may be extremely important in determining which strategy a community uses.

Another barrier cited was the lack of information on details of implementation. It was suggested that a person or group at NIDA serve as a nexus between the research-based program developers and the community implementers, and that person or group would conduct the workshops. The workshops would be specific and focus on training skills related to program implementation. There are many specific skills that groups have learned about getting parents involved that are often unreported and not taught; these would be included as part of the workshop or dissemination effort. We also could help disseminate the science by clarifying for the community implementers the relationship between groups like CSAP and NIDA and other State block funding sources. Many communities do not know who to go to for their various needs.

Another possible solution would be to develop a regular newsletter that provides concrete information or principles relevant to targeting parents or adults in intervention practices. NIDA does publish such a newsletter [NIDA NOTES] that is extremely helpful to researchers. The work group suggested another newsletter, pitched to the program implementer, that lays out principles more concretely. In this way, NIDA could help guide States in developing an infrastructure or framework for selecting prevention programs. This might be especially relevant to State block funding systems.

With respect to future direction in research, the work group discussed ideas about areas of research that would be particularly interesting and helpful to the program implementer. One key area would be pure research on program implementation. We need more research on early intervention; many of the programs are aimed at childhood and adolescence. In addition, we need to better understand the effects of poverty on the basic family processes that we are targeting and also the effects of poverty and its disadvantages related to implementation of prevention programs. We need research on the use of participant education and participant workers in prevention, especially prevention programs directed to families.

Another question of research interest is the impact of mandating parenting interventions. Members of the work group were concerned about working with children whose parent or parents are drug users themselves. What is the best way to approach getting their involvement? Is it mandated? Do we use incentives? It would be useful to research and answer this question.

We also addressed the issue of "affluent neglect." There is a generation of children being raised in families where both parents are working. It is not an issue of poverty, but an issue of neglect, and drug use is certainly relevant in those settings. We need to better understand the dynamics and provide prevention resources there as well.


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