Using Family Skills Training to Combat Substance Abuse

Parenting style and family dynamics can play a key role in drug use prevention among young people. Families can act as powerful protective forces in the health development of children and adolescents. In the same vein, families can be a destructive factor in the wellbeing of children and adolescents and can indeed contribute to substance abuse and risky behaviour.

In light of this, family skills training can be utilized as an important intervention to prevent substance abuse. Family skills training basically help to promote a familial environment of trust and care in order to build full relationships which can help children and adolescents avoid substance abuse.

According the recently published United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) “Guide to Implementing Family Skills Training Programmes for Drug Use Prevention” family skills training programmes combine: (a) training of parents to strengthen their parenting skills; (b) training of children in personal and social skills; and (c) family practice sessions.

“Family skills training programmes differ from parent education programmes, which focus on providing parents with information about the use of substances in the absence of skills training for parents and children,” states the report. “Parent education programmes are often shorter in duration (less than eight hours in total), whereas family skills training programmes typically consist of a minimum of four to eight sessions of two to three hours.”

The report states that a typical session will see parents and children attending their own training groups and, at the end, coming together as a whole family for some practice time. Computer based learning and telephone can also be employed as methods to impart the skills on prevention of substance abuse and risky behaviour.

A major challenge with family skills training programmes is the recruitment and retention of parent with the typical complaint being that parents miss out on nations.

For this methodology to work effectively, it requires commitment on the part of programme managers, parents and their children.

Apart from the need of evidence based programming, the report also emphasizes the need for policy makers and programme managers to take into account the culture of participating families.

“Families want programmes that have been developed specifically for their parenting issues, family needs and cultural values,” states the report.

The local situation must therefore inform the ultimate design of the programmes without, of course, compromising validity in the event that its an adaptation. In other words, although the adaptation need to respond to the culture and socio-economic situation of the target population, fidelity to the evidence-based programme must be ensured.

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