Research and Development

SFP10-14 Background

Since the early 90s, alcohol misuse, substance abuse and other behavioural problems have increased amongst youths. To counter these trends, we must strengthen prevention efforts to reduce these problems. We now have over 25 years of research on the factors that promote and prevent youth problem behaviours to help us know how to effectively intervene in the lives of young people before they engage in behaviour that is likely to have serious long-term consequences for them and for our society.

The research has helped us to identify the important factors that put young people at most risk for problems or, on the positive side, protect them from serious problems. Intervention researchers have studied the effectiveness of various prevention approaches by using rigorous research designs and testing and implementing effective prevention interventions in “real-world” settings.

We also have learned about the highest-risk periods for drug use amongst youths. For most children, research has shown that the most vulnerable periods are transitions. When youth advance from primary school to secondary school they often face social challenges, such as learning to get along with a wider group of peers. It is at this stage, early adolescence, that children are likely to encounter alcohol and drug use for the first time (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1997). A report from the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development (1995) characterises this period of development as “dangerously” risky in the context of contemporary society. This is especially true when parenting becomes ineffective.

Reviews of literature on adolescents indicate that enhancing protective factors and reducing risk in the family environment can be particularly important during early adolescence (e.g., Caplan & Weissberg, 1989). A substantial body of literature supports a strong predictive relationship between ineffective child rearing in early adolescence and delinquent behaviour in later adolescence (Dishion, Patterson, Stoolmiller & Skinner, 1991; Loeber & Dishion, 1993). As described here, outcome analyses conducted to date have shown promising results for the Strengthening Families Programme 10-14 in terms of parenting skills, risk factor mitigation, and slowing the growth of youth problem behaviours.