It may not be daring advice: Strengthen your family to keep your children away from drugs.
But it is the newest approach in substance abuse prevention, being led by a Utah native transplanted to Washington, D.C., and directing a federal agency's charge to keep kids off drugs.Over the past few decades substance abuse prevention efforts have gravitated from drug education to peer resistance, with little strong evidence any of it was working, Karol Kumpfer says.
Last week a "totally new" approach was unveiled to the nation's prevention specialists during the annual meeting of the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors in Salt Lake City.
New evidence-based guidelines - issued from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - focus on the family as the way to prevent drug and alcohol abuse in children.
Kumpfer, a former University of Utah professor, directs the federal agency's Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. She said it may seem logical that the family is the key, but in professional circles this a new approach.
"Parents have enormous impact on their kids," Kumpfer said. That notion, however, has been overlooked in an era of "just say no."
On a recent cab ride in Salt Lake, the driver told Kumpfer his teenage son was at home smoking marijuana in his bedroom with his friends. And the man thought there was nothing he could do.
Wrong, Kumpfer said.
Research shows what children need is positive time with their parents and family meetings where they can talk about their feelings.
Kumpfer tells parents to catch their children being good and compliment the child immediately to reinforce the behavior. Children also need consistent discipline and chores, to teach them they are an important part of making the family function.
Kumpfer said studies show that when children are asked why they do drugs, young people blame it on their friends. But when asked why they don't do drugs, they credit their parents.
Substance abuse and other behavior problems begin in childhood, usually before school or other intervention programs are available, Kumpfer said. However, few programs have existed to target the family.
Twenty years ago when Kumpfer was looking for a program to help Salt Lake heroin addicts with their family skills, there wasn't a perfect program. She developed the Family Skills Training program. But that kind of approach hasn't been applied systematically.
The new guidelines will filter down to caseworkers, therapists and others who work with families.
The approach won't be a magic bullet, Kumpfer said, but through community coalitions, education and other approaches, the developmental psychologist said real advances could be made.
The new guidelines are the second in a series being released by Kumpfer's agency. The three family-centered approaches that officials say have shown successare:
- Parent and family skills training: This can improve communication between parent and child, child behavior, parenting skills and family conflict.
- In-home support services: Services should focus on decreasing domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, child placements, reducing youth crimes and arrests, helping youth improve social skills, anger management and school attendance. Services must be intensive and long-term.
- Family therapy: This improves the family's functioning through reducing antisocial behaviors, juvenile delinquency, recidivism and child abuse.
For free information for families, contact the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, 1-800-729-6686.