What Is Prevention

Prevention is a science. The Risk and Protective Factor Model of Prevention is a proven way of reducing substance abuse and its related consequences. This model is based on the simple premise that to prevent a problem from happening, we need to identify the factors that increase the risk of that problem developing and then find ways to reduce the risks. Just as medical researchers have found riskfactors for heart disease such as diets high in fat, lack of exercise, and smoking; a team of researchers at the University of Washington have defined a set of risk factors for youth problem behaviors. Risk factors are characteristics of school, community and family environments, and of students and their peer groups known to predict increased likelihood of drug use, delinquency, school dropout, and violent behaviors among youth. For example, children who live in disorganized, crime-ridden neighborhoods are more likely to become involved in crime and drug use than children who live in safe neighborhoods.

The chart below shows the links between the 19 risk factors and six problem behaviors. The check marks indicate where at least two well designed, published research studies have shown a link between the risk factor and the problem behavior.

Protective  factors exert a positive influence and buffer against the negative influence of risk, thus reducing the likelihood that adolescents will engage in problem behaviors. Protective factors identified through research include strong bonding to family, school, community, and peers; and healthy beliefs and clear standards for behavior. Protective bonding depends on three conditions:

  • Opportunities for young people to actively contribute
  • Skills to be able to successfully contribute
  • Consistent recognition or reinforcement for their efforts and accomplishments

Bonding confers a protective influence only when there is a positive climate in the bonded community. Peers and adults in these schools, families, and neighborhoods must communicate healthy values and set clear standards for behavior in order to ensure a protective effect. For example, strong bonds to antisocial peers would not be likely to reinforce positive behavior.

Research on risk and protective factors has important implications for children’s academic success, positive youth development, and prevention of health and behavior problems. In order to promote academic success and positive youth development and to prevent problem behaviors, it is necessary to address the factors that predict  these  outcomes. By measuring risk and protective factors in a population, specific risk factors that are elevated and widespread can be identified and targeted by policies, programs, and actions shown to reduce those risk factors and to promote protective factors.

Each risk and protective factor can be linked to specific types of interventions that have been shown to be effective in either reducing risk(s) or enhancing protection(s). The steps outlined here will help your Regional Prevention Coordinator make key decisions regarding allocation of resources, how and when to address specific needs, and which strategies are most effective and known to produce results.

In addition to helping assess current conditions and prioritize areas of greatest need, data from the Oklahoma Prevention Needs Assessment Survey can be a powerful tool in applying for and complying with several federal programs outlined later in this report, such as the Strategic Prevention Framework process.