Teaching new behaviors and skills to parents and children while making more in-home crisis services available to troubled families can help prevent substance abuse by youth, a Utah study concluded.

Those steps are included in new federal guidelines released June 3 during The National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors conference in Salt Lake City.The prevention steps worked for 850 families in high-risk schools in Utah, said Karol Kumpfer, director of the federal Center for Substance Abuse Prevention and a University of Utah associate professor of health education.

Kumpfer directed a three-year study on at-risk first-graders and their families in Tooele and Davis counties. Therapists start on children at young ages to prevent substance abuse later in life. The research found the approach resulted in "significant positive results with reductions in family conflict and improvement in children's positive behavior," she said.

The university began the program 10 years ago. It involved training community groups on abuse-prevention techniques. Researchers started studying the program's results 18 months ago through a three-year grant from the federal substance-abuse prevention center.

The program said factors that help guard children against substance abuse include:

- A child's positive attitude and ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

- A close-knit family where there is consistent discipline and parental supervision of a child's daily activities.

- Close friends and an extended family that provides support.

The program risk factors that can lead to substance abuse include serious behavior problems in children, communication difficulties in the family, too much or too little discipline, parental abuse of substances, child abuse, peer rejection, neighborhood crime and failure to do well in school.

In the training sessions, parents are taught skills to enhance protective factors in the home and reduce risk factors while children are taught life and coping skills.

Then parents and children are brought together for a family therapy session to improve communication.

Intervention services are brought into the home to solve problems.

"When you bring all those things together, that's when we started seeing reductions in the children's' alcohol, drug and tobacco use," Kumpfer said. "But it takes all the components to work."

When Kumpfer and her colleagues tested the therapies separately, they found that the parental training therapy alone reduced the children's negative behavior, but it didn't improve their social skills. Improving the family relationship as a unit is critical to success, she said.