by Kat Allen, Co-Chair, Communities That Care Coalition of Franklin County and the North Quabbin
Hello Fellow Fans of Collective Impact!
If you read the article “Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work”, then you are already somewhat familiar with the Communities That Care Coalition of Franklin County and the North Quabbin. We are a collective impact initiative in rural Western Massachusetts that has been working toward reducing teen substance use since 2003. In the 9 years of our coalition’s work, youth cigarette smoking has decreased by 45%, marijuana use has decreased by 31%, alcohol use has decreased by 37%, and binge drinking has decreased by 50%!
For this blog post, John Kania asked if I would share our coalition’s story about the long and winding road we have traveled in trying to make a change in “Poor Family Management” and “Parental Attitudes Favorable to Substance Use” – two of the six risk factors for teen substance use that our community set as top priorities for improving. This example – while only one arm of the work we do in our community – provides a good demonstration of the need for collective impact to be simultaneously rigorous and disciplined as well as organic, adaptive and flexible. Please pardon the bullet format - I’m cramming 9 years of history into this post:
- In 2003, our coalition set a goal to reduce Poor Family Management and Parental Attitudes Favorable to Substance Use – risk factors that our local data showed were too high in our area.
- We hosted a training-of-trainers, and helped set up 20 different sessions of Guiding Good Choices - an evidence-based parent education program.
- Nearly 200 parents participated in these 5-week courses at a dozen different institutions across our region, led by staff from these agencies. Their pre/post evaluations showed that they liked the programs and improved their knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors.
- Despite our efforts, the results of our teen health surveys in 2006 and 2009 showed no population level improvement in Poor Family Management or Parental Attitudes Favorable to Substance Use!
- We added a parent campaign to try to reach all parents of 7th through 12th grade students by going directly to them. We worked with the schools and sent postcards home to all parents of 7th through 12th grade students; we worked with businesses to get the messages on pizza boxes, grocery bags, on paper napkins, in fortune cookies, in windows, on banners, on billboards, on the radio, etc.
- One of our messages in the parent campaign was about family dinners. Research shows that kids who have regular family dinners are at lower risk for substance use. Furthermore, kids who sit at the same seat at dinner each night are even less likely to use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Regular family dinner – by providing connection and structure – seems to embody the best of Family Management.
- We discovered through a parent survey, focus groups, and intercept surveys that our family dinner message really resonated with local parents, and seemed to build on momentum from the local food movement, the nutrition and physical activity movement, and even the poor economy.
- We are now trying to connect with as many family-friendly dinner events in the region as possible to have the organizers promote the importance of family dinners at their events - and we’ll provide placemats, napkins, and other materials with our messages at the events. And we’ve teamed up with the national Family Day to get easy, free materials and fantastic free press!
- The percent of young people reporting having dinner with their families went from 54% in 2008 to 61% in 2012, and for the first time in 2012 we have now seen significant improvements in both Poor Family Management (19% reduction in students with this risk factor) and Parental Attitudes Favorable to Substance Use (12% reduction in students with this risk factor) in all grades!
Though we can’t say exactly to what extent our efforts have contributed to these changes, we can say we’ve been disciplined in our commitment to our goal of reducing these risk factors, and adaptive in our use of strategies to best achieve our goals. And most certainly we are encouraged by the changes we’ve seen in our region in the last 9 years.
Good luck to you in your collective impact endeavors! Together we can!!
About Kat Allen: Kat Allen is one of the Chairs of the Communities That Care Coalition serving Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region in Western Massachusetts, a Collective Impact initiative that has realized substantial reductions in teen substance use. She holds a master's degree in public health from Columbia University and has spent the past fifteen years working in the field of adolescent health, particularly in teen pregnancy, violence, and substance abuse prevention. For the past eight years Kat has served as the Coordinator of the Community Coalition for Teens, which is a program of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments and is one of the host organizations for the Communities That Care Coalition.