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Effective Principles of Primary Prevention Programs
A goal of any prevention program should be to address the full range of risk and protective factors present within a community. To do so means to offer programming on several levels. Strategies can be directed at individuals to impact their behaviors when engaging with others. Activities can be designed to change environments in communities. Finally, changing societal or cultural norms can involve partnering with the media or implementing policy/procedural changes.
Varied Teaching Methods
In teaching, it is important to recognize that each person learns in a unique way. Prevention messages may be delivered in a variety of ways such as: lecture; small group work; discussions; surveys; role-plays; games; skill building activities/exercises; assemblies; personal testimonies; poster contests; poetry readings and theatre/musical performances. Ideally, school or community-wide events should be incorporated. The goal is to facilitate a group process of discovery and change. The options are endless, but should be tailored to the needs of the participants.
This principle refers to the idea that participants (our target of change) need to be exposed to information with enough quantity and intensity to have a positive long-term effect. One-time events or occasional activities are less effective in changing attitudes and behaviors over time. Sufficient dosage highlights the importance of following up and providing booster sessions to maintain the impact. This principle is sometimes may also be called “saturation” and describes the importance of saturating a setting with information and prevention messages along with opportunities to learn and practice skills rather than one time events (yearly school assemblies) with low duration (exposure to messages once for fifty minutes.) Sufficient dosage can occur in a 50-minute class that students attend over the course of 12-26 weeks, but can also be achieved in a class or session that occurs all day for four or five days. Whatever the dosage, the most effective programs help participants acquire the skills they will need to act differently.
The most effective prevention programs rely on proven strategies that have been evaluated or researched as well as theories of how people change. Effective programs present some theory of change about why the activity or strategy will decrease participants' risk for perpetration.
Prevention programming should seek to foster and strengthen positive relationships among peer groups and between children/youth and adults. Facilitators must be prepared to continuously model the positive and healthy relationships we want participants to adopt, and to be an ally to youth.
Programs should be delivered in a manner that is tailored to the intellectual, cognitive and social development level of the participants. It is important to proactively address risk and protective factors and model healthy relationships.
Programs must be relevant to the community that is being engaged. This cannot be achieved without input from individuals who represent all segments of the community. Making the connection between all forms of oppression and understanding how they affect cultural norms is important to prevention programming.
This is becoming a necessary component of any service delivery - funders expect positive change to occur as a result of our efforts. A systematic evaluation can help determine program successes and challenges.
All staff should be expected to internalize and model prevention attitudes and behavior. Teaching staff must become fluent in prevention material use and have competence with the issue. Efforts should be made to retain trained staff in order to continue programming. Staff training includes knowledge, attitude and behavioral change in order to provide an environment that does not tolerate violence and embraces the spirit of prevention.
Nation, M., Crusto, C., Wandersman, A., Kumpfer, K. L., Seybolt, D., Morrissey-Kane, E., & Davino, K. (2003). What works in prevention: Principles of Effective Prevention Programs. American Psychologist, 58, 449-456
For more detailed information on applying the Principles of Effective Prevention Programs, visit mentoring.org
Messages that only promote awareness of teen dating violence and offer suggestions for risk reduction will not do enough to change the climate of a school, group or community. While there are many approaches to delivering curricula, utilizing the principles outlined above is a best practice for preventing violence before it starts.
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