Academic journal article Family Relations

Choosing Effective Youth-Focused Prevention Strategies: A Practical Guide for Applied Family Professionals

Academic journal article Family Relations

Choosing Effective Youth-Focused Prevention Strategies: A Practical Guide for Applied Family Professionals

Article excerpt

Advances in the field of prevention science have resulted in strategies that target various youth outcomes. In recent years, numerous "best practices" lists have been developed to help professionals identify such strategies. Some scholars have questioned the quality of these lists and cautioned that there are flaws in evaluations of many prevention strategies. The purpose of this paper is to review these criticisms and provide applied family scholars with suggestions regarding how to identify effective strategies.

Key Words: best practices, evidence-based practice, prevention.

Over the past several decades, applied family professionals have been increasingly involved in developing, implementing, and evaluating strategies aimed at preventing a variety of negative outcomes among youth (Bogenschneider, 2006; Kumpfer, Alvarado, & Whiteside, 2003; Spoth, Kavanagh, & Dishion, 2002). Since the 1980s, significant advances have been made in the field of prevention science with the goal of creating high-quality initiatives aimed at preventing outcomes such as delinquency, substance use, and school failure among youth. Indeed, numerous well-designed and well-evaluated programs have been packaged for widespread dissemination (Catalano, Berglund, Ryan, Lonczak, & Hawkins, 2004; Hawkins, Catalano, & Arthur, 2002; Wandersman & Florin, 2003). Furthermore, a variety of "best practices" lists have been developed to help applied professionals identify effective strategies to implement in their own schools, neighborhoods, towns, and cities (Gandhi, Murphy-Graham, Petrosino, Chrismer, & Weiss, 2007; Gorman & Conde, 2007; Small, 2005).

Despite the positive trends mentioned above, several scholars have recently cautioned that the field of prevention science still has much work to do. Specifically, scholars have questioned the quality of some outcome evaluations of popular prevention strategies and have indicated that many suffer from methodological flaws (Gorman, 1998; Gorman & Conde, 2007; Wandersman & Florin, 2003; Weiss, MurphyGraham, Petrosino, & Gandhi, 2008). In addition, there is a growing concern that although the popular "best practices" lists typically include examples of strategies that have demonstrated effectiveness in high-quality evaluations, they also tend to include some strategies that have not been properly evaluated, are not ready for widespread dissemination, and/or fail to demonstrate long-term effects on youth outcomes (Gandhi et al., 2007; Gorman, 2002; Hallfors, Pankratz, & Hartman, 2007; Wandersman & Florin; Weiss et al.). As a result, users of such lists must be cautious when selecting strategies for their own communities as it may be difficult to assess their overall quality from the limited amount of information included in the lists.

In light of the above-mentioned criticisms, the primary purposes of this paper are to highlight current concerns related to popular "best practices" lists and to propose specific criteria that family professionals can use to help guide the selection of effective prevention strategies. In addition, this discussion is meant to stimulate a more general dialogue among applied family scholars regarding how we can best identify and disseminate high-quality strategies. As can be seen in the following sections of this paper, family professionals may be in a unique position that can help move the field of prevention science forward. Indeed, many of the most promising prevention strategies either directly or indirectly target family-level variables. As family professionals, our expertise and understanding of how these variables interact to impact developmental outcomes of individual family members can help facilitate the identification, and ultimately dissemination, of effective strategies.

This paper begins with a brief overview of the history of the field of prevention science and discusses some of the progress as well as problems that have developed within the field. …

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