Prevention researchers to examine effectiveness of Communities That Care model

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – An examination of the long-term effectiveness of the Communities That Care model in preventing risky behaviors among school-age youth in Pennsylvania is the focus of a new grant awarded to Penn State researchers.

The grant, from the National Institutes of Health, was awarded to Jennifer L. Frank, assistant professor of educational psychology, counseling and special education in the Penn State College of Education and research assistant professor in the Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, and Sarah Chilenski, research assistant professor in the Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center.

The grant looks at the effectiveness of the Communities That Care model on a variety of youth risk behaviors including alcohol, tobacco, and drug use, youth mental health, bullying and gambling behaviors.

The Communities That Care model guides communities through a five-phase process that uses prevention science at its base to promote healthy youth outcomes and reduce problem behaviors.

“The Communities That Care model begins with the formation of multidisciplinary coalitions of community members and professionals representing various youth-serving organizations,” Frank said.

Representatives from education, social services, juvenile justice and other social-service sectors partner with other concerned citizens to make informed prevention programming decisions. These coalitions undertake a formal assessment of youth risk and protective factors in their community, and then implement evidence-based programs to address specific local needs.

Communities that have implemented and maintained the program have seen dramatic reductions in youth alcohol and tobacco use and crime and violence. Pennsylvania is one of the only states to adopt and implement the Communities That Care model statewide, and thus represents an “ideal testing ground to explore the effects of Communities That Care in real-world settings,” Frank said.

The funded project represents one of the largest studies of Communities That Care to date, and will include data obtained from more than 470,044 youth in more than 583 schools in 246 school districts across Pennsylvania. Longitudinal data collected from youth and CTC coalitions during 2000–2012 will be used to determine the long-term effectiveness of the CTC model under real-world implementation conditions.

Other members of the project include: co-investigator Mark Greenberg, Edna Peterson Bennett Endowed Chair in Prevention Research and professor of human development and psychology; co-investigator Mark Feinberg, research professor in the Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center; and Yoonkyung Oh, research associate in the College of Education