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


Concurrent Sessions

Work Group on Prevention Through the Family


Thomas J. Dishion, Oregon Social Learning Center, Inc.
Kathryn M. Akerlund, National Prevention Network, Colorado Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division
Victoria M. Duran, The National Parent Teacher Association


Rebecca S. Ashery, National Institute on Drug Abuse

National Conference on Drug Abuse Prevention Research

Rebecca Ashery

Our panel members are Victoria Duran from the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) in Chicago, Kathy Akerlund from the NPN and the Colorado Alcohol and Drug Division, and Dr. Thomas Dishion from the Oregon Social Learning Center.

Ms. Akerlund and Ms. Duran will comment on Dr. Dishion's presentation regarding family prevention interventions. They will be looking at ways of knowledge transfer and considering such questions as, How can you take what we have learned from science and implement it in your programs? What are the barriers? What are the cost issues? After their comments, Dr. Dishion will clarify any issues they have brought up.

Victoria Duran

I am from the National PTA, which is the parent organization to PTAs in local school districts. There are almost 7 million members nationwide. I cannot claim to have direct contact with all of them, but we do work directly with our State congresses, which provide information and resources to our local units.

I was heartened to continually hear throughout all of the presentations, and certainly in Dr. Dishion's, the vote of confidence and the encouragement that parents definitely need to be involved. That has been the mission of the PTA for 100 years. This is our 100th anniversary year - we were founded in Washington, DC, and our membership grew to an all-time high in the 1970s. Membership has been declining since.

As many of you know if you are working in the community, parent involvement is a struggle. The demographics are changing, the family structure is changing, and some of the barriers to parents' involvement at community centers and at schools are becoming greater. At the national level, we try to create model programs and initiatives to encourage our local units to get involved in initiatives like those that have been discussed at this conference. Parents need to be involved as partners, rather than being talked to or preached at. Parents need to be involved as equal partners in many of the different initiatives that happen at the community and school levels. We need to be aware of a parent's number one concern. National surveys of our membership show that substance abuse is parents' number one concern.

Kathryn Akerlund

We have been blaming parents for everything for a long time, and we have done little to help them. We have not done prevention at the universal level with parents, which points up one of the barriers: When, where, and how are we going to offer all of these programs to parents? I suggest that we start thinking about whether we do it in the workplace or when parents are at school. However we need to get them more involved, and we are going to have to take it to them rather than build it and expect them to come to us.

As panel participants, we were asked to think about whether the findings fit our perceptions of the nature of the problem. The after-school problem is not only substance abuse but also teen pregnancy. Most teens get pregnant after school between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. If we can solve some of that after-school problem for parents, we can also solve a lot of the other problems that are related to substance abuse.

I think we can do more at the State level. For example, we can get all of the State agencies that are involved in prevention to focus on parenting programs. We need to be using all types of programs because one size does not fit all. For example, where family preservation might work with one family, another type of program will work with another family.

The barriers are incredible. Although there are some great programs out there, it may cost $300 to $400 to get parents involved. When parents must decide whether to spend that money on clothes for the kids or spend it on going to a class, they are going to choose clothes for the kids. We need to make things more workable for them.

Therefore, we need to get the rest of the community involved. One way is getting our "critter clubs" - the Elks, the Lions - involved. They are in all of our communities, and they are parents who want healthy communities. Often they are just looking for a good cause to get involved with. In Colorado one of the clubs came to us and said they had heard what we had been doing about fetal alcohol syndrome and that we had a 5-minute video. They wanted to put the video into every doctor's office in our county. They paid for the videos and got them into every doctor's office.

NIDA should take what you are doing and get it out all over the country. I think that is one of the funder's responsibilities, to pass on the results of grant research in lay language so people can use it.

Thomas Dishion

I want to talk about the barriers. I mentioned the need for a menu of services to offer parents. We have to get away from the one-program-only model. Even in a community where the one program seems to be the best fit for many parents, parents tend to respond better to a menu of serv-ices. We also need to get away from assumptions about how much we need to intervene.

For example, when working with parents in groups, we looked at those families that made enormous changes and when they made them. In a psychoeducational model, you would expect that the more skills the parents learn, the more change would accumulate and that the most dramatic change would happen at the last session. However, that was not the case. The parents who changed dramatically did so after only 3 of the 12 sessions and maintained that change. A sudden shift happened.

Perhaps we should look at a few more assumptions in terms of how much parents need. When we approach a single parent who is working full time and ask that person to be involved in a 16-week group for 2 hours a night, it is a miracle to me that he or she shows up. It is a huge commitment. If they do not need the full 16 weeks or if we are overteaching, then we are not doing them a service. I am starting to think that might be true.

If we organize groups around salient issues that are happening right then, parents come in. If it is child-centered - for example, on the school performance of kids - suddenly attendance goes up from 20 to 85 percent. Participation depends on how we present what we are doing. If we call it a parent training program, the numbers go down. If we describe it as a night focused on concerns about what kids are doing after school, the numbers go up. When the focus goes from the parent to the kids, all of a sudden parents start showing up.

There are many such issues that we need to think through. And it is not just the researchers who can do that best; it is kind of a partnership. It is what people have called service delivery research, which is critical at this point. The focus on parents is important. There is much work to be done on exactly how best to deliver those services.

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