Communities That Care is a prevention system developed by University of Washington researchers that supports communities to adopt prevention programmes known to work.
A recent study used survey results from students followed from fifth grade through the end of tenth grade, a year after external support for Communities That Care ended. For five years, Hawkins and his colleagues tracked the behaviours of 4,407 youths growing up in 24 small- to moderate-size towns in Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Half of the towns had been randomly assigned to receive training in the Communities That Care system and were compared with towns of similar size and demographics that were not using the system.
In Communities That Care towns, young people in fifth through ninth grades participated in programmes aimed to mitigate risk factors such as family conflict, low commitment to school and academic difficulties. The programmes were chosen by a community coalition in each town from a list of preventive interventions known to work.
Teens growing up in the towns using the prevention system had half the odds of ever having smoked a cigarette by tenth grade and had 21% lower odds of currently smoking in tenth grade compared with teens growing up in the towns without the system. They also had 38% lower odds of ever trying alcohol and 21% lower odds of initiating delinquent behaviour by tenth grade. The tenth graders in the Communities That Care towns also reported 17% lower odds of engaging in delinquent behaviour, such as stealing, vandalism and selling drugs, and 25% lower odds of engaging in violence, including physical fights.
“What’s exciting about this paper is that these decreases in alcohol use, smoking and violence were apparent even after outside support for the Communities That Care system ended. It shows that community coalitions can make a sustained difference in their youngsters’ health community- wide,” said J. David Hawkins, lead author and director of the study and founding director of the UW’s Social Development Research Group, affiliated with the UW School of Social Work.
The study was published online Oct. 3 in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.