Parent Engagement in Youth Drug Prevention in Chinese Families: Advancement in Program Development and Evaluation

By Tsang, Sandra K. M. | International Journal of Child Health and Human Development, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Parent Engagement in Youth Drug Prevention in Chinese Families: Advancement in Program Development and Evaluation


Tsang, Sandra K. M., International Journal of Child Health and Human Development


Introduction

Findings from various studies conducted by the government, universities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) show that the youth drug problem in Hong Kong is escalating [1-3]. There is also normalization of drug use [4] and a surge in female drug users [5,6]. These have drawn growing attention from key community stakeholders, like the government, schools, and youth service organizations. To combat the situation, positive youth development programs solely targeting adolescents and mainly conducted in schools have been the priority. This is certainly a correct way forward. Young people should be helped to take charge of their own healthy development, and since peers harbor both risky temptations and protective buffers in youth development, it is important to reduce the former and expand the latter.

In conjunction with the continued promotion of positive youth development [7] through schools and social services, there is an increasing awareness that the role of parents/families has been overlooked. The family is actually the primary physical, psychological, social and spiritual setting which nurtures children into independent social members of society. Family education, conveyed through parents' formal and informal teaching, is the main means of such socialization. There is, however, a persistent under-involvement of parents in the fight against youth drug use. A review of preventive education and publicity projects in Hong Kong from 1999 to 2009 showed that only about 10% of such programs took parents as their primary concern [8]. This paper will review key local experience in developing, delivering and researching parental engagement in anti-drug work to advocate for more theory-driven and evidence-based resources on the subject in Chinese communities.

Importance of parental engagement

The importance of parental engagement in youth anti-drug work can be demonstrated through key social science theories, overseas studies, local barriers to parents showing concern over the topic, and changing patterns of expressed needs from parents.

Three important theories highlight the important role of parents in anti-drug campaigns. The Ecological Systems Theory [9] classified the social context into microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem and chronosystem. This provides a conceptual framework for understanding the interactions between different domains, and convincingly highlights the fact that parents and family systems occupy the next closest social systems beyond an individual. Parents play critical and irreplaceable roles in any child's development. The Social Development framework [10,11] points out that the parent and family system harbors both protective and risk factors which impact children. Common family protective factors include protection, provision and positive teaching, while indulgence and abusive parental behavior are common risk factors that hinder a child's healthy development. The framework shows that removing risk factors does not mean that protective factors will naturally emerge. Ensuring adequate basic means of living, and the essential parenting skills of communication, problem-solving and conflict management are all important for building up protective factors. Finally, the Public Health approach [12,13] helps to highlight that families with no problems still need input for problem prevention (universal level); families with some problems (selected level) and families with severe problems (indicated level). The key is devising proper input for different levels and delivering it to target groups in suitable ways.

In developed countries like the U.K., the U.S., Australia and Canada, cultivating family resources and enhancing family functioning are often the key emphases in youth drug-prevention initiatives [14]. There has been an intense focus on addressing the family-based risk and protective factors that seem to cause youth substance abuse. Reduction of risk factors, such as normalizing the lives of children suffering from parental drug use, has been reported in Australia [15]. …

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