Training Workers Implementing Adolescent Prevention and Positive Youth Development Programs: What Have We Learned from the Literature?

Article excerpt

Adolescent developmental issues have received increasing attention from researchers and practitioners throughout the world (Galambos & Leadbeater, 2000; Grunbaum et al., 2004). According to Shek (2006), the most prevalent adolescent developmental issues include substance abuse, juvenile delinquency, mental health problems, unhealthful lifestyles, economic disadvantages, unemployment, non-engagement, and family problems. Although results have shown that some of the aforementioned problems have stabilized in the past years (Shek, 2006), these issues continue to be of concern to society. Due to these rising concerns, efforts to promote healthful adolescent development have increased and many studies were implemented to examine the effectiveness of prevention programs. For example, research shows that Life Skills Training was able to reduce the risk of alcohol, tobacco, drug abuse, and violence among adolescents (Botvin et al., 2006) and Project STAR (also known as the Midwestern Prevention Project) reduced adolescent smoking by 10% (Pentz et al., 1989). A longitudinal study that examined past participants in the PATHS Program showed that those adolescents had a higher likelihood of achieving a healthful adulthood (Meltzer et al., 2006).

Even though adolescent prevention programs are well-researched, the importance of training prevention professionals tends to be overlooked (Dusenbury & Falco, 1995; Finn & Willert, 2006; McLaughlin & Vacha, 1993; Patterson & Czajkowski, 1979) even though it is crucial to the success of program implementation. Because adolescents spend a great deal of time in school, teachers are an obvious choice for guiding them toward healthful development. However, few are active in attempting to stop student drug use (Finn & Willert, 2006). According to Norland, DiChiara, and Hendershott (1995), even with the help of prevention curricula and in-service training, few teachers believed they could persuade students not to take drugs. They felt that teaching about drug and alcohol use was a "relatively ineffective mode of prevention" (p. 104). This lack of positive attitude can greatly hinder adolescent development because teachers' perceived efficacy was found to positively affect student outcomes (Jerald, 2007). Thus, if teachers do not believe these programs can be of help, the programs are bound to fail. It is therefore essential to incorporate facilitator training in prevention programs to instill a positive attitude.

Furthermore, successful training can minimize the chances of committing a type III error--correctly concluding that the prevention program is ineffective for the wrong reason (Basch et al., 1985; Helitzer et al., 2000; Schwartz & Carpenter, 1999; Wade, 2001). There are times when program results display no preventive effects and researchers will tend to incriminate curricula when, in fact, lack of implementers' training could be the reason (Tortu & Botvin, 1989). A study conducted by Rohrbach et al. (1993) demonstrated this error; the research team evaluated the integrity of program implementation of trained and untrained teachers. Results showed that the success rates even among trained teachers in adopting, implementing, and maintaining the program were "highly variable and surprisingly low" (p. 249).

Studies also illustrate that after training, teachers have increased confidence in teaching the prevention program and displayed positive implementation results. Kealey and colleagues (2000) evaluated a teacher-training curriculum of an adolescent tobacco prevention program--Hutchison Smoking Prevention Project (HSPP). The training, based on the behavior change model, consists of presentation of prevention program theory, modeling, and guided practice of skills, and feedback. The curriculum has four main objectives: motivate teachers, communicate responsibilities, furnish all materials, and provide information, skills, and confidence. …