School alcohol policy can effect drinking – but only if pupils think it will be enforced

School rulesA few years ago the survey the government commission about school children in England’s smoking drinking and drug use stopped asking schools whether they had a drug and alcohol policy, they found that (almost) everyone did, but what hasn’t been clear is whether those policies are effective.

If you take exclusions as an indicator (and I’ll admit it might not be a very good one) the messages are a bit mixed as I discussed in more detail back this time last year.  Then it seemed that while permanent exclusions for drugs and alcohol had been falling and fixed term exclusions had remained roughly stable they had both been increasing as a proportion of the overall exclusion rates.

New research carried out looking at school alcohol policies in the US and Australia suggest that they key element is not in having a policy but in whether the pupils think it will be enforced.

According to the write up of the research on Science Daily:

even if a school had a suspension or expulsion policy, if students felt the school didn’t enforce it then they were more likely to drink on campus. But, even if a school’s policy was less harsh — such as requiring counseling — students were less likely to drink at school if they believed school officials would enforce it.

They other key finding they describe is that harm is reduced if pupils think that the likely result of being caught is that they get an intervention by a teacher on the dangers of alcohol use, rather than being excluded.

The ADEPIS toolkit for schools wanting to review their drug and alcohol policy published earlier this year may be a useful way of helping pupils get a better understanding of what the school’s policy is and a helpful reminder to the rest of the school community about what their response to incidents should be.

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Alcohol and Drug Training for Social Workers

Back in April I looked at the number of young people in the care system that were identified as needing treatment for substance misuse.  The bald figures were that 1 in 29 young people in care were identified as needing treatment, which compares to 1 in 240 amongst the general population.

One of the questions I asked was whether the system is good at identifying need and acting on those needs.

A new report from the University of Bedfordshire, published on the Alcohol Research UK website, suggests that social workers aren’t getting the level of training they feel they need in this area.

The key finding seems to be that there is no consistency in how drug and alcohol education is delivered to trainee social workers, with three quarters of respondents saying that they felt there wasn’t sufficient focus on the issue in what was provided.

Looking at the detailed report I can’t find any reference to preventing drug and alcohol misuse though this may be included in the modules that look at how to talk about alcohol and other drugs.  By contrast there are courses that talk about treatment interventions.

In children and family modules the topics that are reported as being covered most often are:

  • Impact on children and families and parenting
  • Identifying problematic alcohol use
  • How to assess risk relating to drug or alcohol issues
  • Working with or referring to specialist alcohol and/or drug workers
  • Reasons people use and misuse substances

The University of Bedford have what look like a number of useful resources on their website including:

Other papers can be downloaded here.

Prevention of teenage smoking through negative information giving

Some German research which looked at whether delivering negative information to young people about the effects of smoking has a preventative effect caught my eye.

In their abstract the authors conclude:

Although the clinic intervention generated a significant immediate reaction, there were no significant preventive effects at follow-up. These results are in line with previous research and add further evidence for the ineffectiveness of emotionally arousing negative information giving in smoking prevention with adolescents.

I’d be interested in whether this suggests that when NICE come to review their guidance on preventing the uptake of smoking by children and young people they will need to change their view that negative information should be part of smoking prevention information and campaigns for young people.

It has to be said that the German research contrasts with the findings of a review of health messages on tobacco products which found:

The evidence also indicates that comprehensive warnings are effective among youth and may help to prevent smoking initiation. Pictorial health warnings that elicit strong emotional reactions are significantly more effective.

The Cochrane review of mass media interventions for young people has some interesting observations on what makes for a successful campaign.  The reviewers say:

Overall, effective campaigns lasted longer with a minimum of three consecutive years, and were also more intense than less successful ones for both school based lessons (minimum eight lessons per grade) and media spots (minimum 4 weeks’ duration across multiple media channels with between 167 and 350 TV and radio spots). The timing and type of broadcast made a difference to their success, with older youths in one study preferring radio to television. Implementation of combined school based curriculum/components (i.e. school posters) and the use of repetitive media messages delivered via multiple channels (i.e. newspapers, radio, television) over a minimum period of three years contributed to successful campaigns. Changes in attitudes, knowledge or intention to smoke did not generally seem to affect the long-term success of the campaigns.

Meanwhile the recent update to the Cochrane review of school based prevention of smoking suggests that schools should combine social competence and social influences interventions.

First process evaluation from the Realising Ambition programme

Launched last year the Realising Ambition is a £25 million over five years programme to replicate evidence based crime prevention interventions.

Being led by a consortium of Catch 22, the Social Research Unit, Young Foundation and Substance, it is by far and away the most sustained recent attempt to bring the evidence based programme movement to the UK.

25 projects are being run with to reach 145,000 young people aged 5 to 14 over the five years’ of programme delivery, you can read more about the programmes and programme deliverers here.

A year on from the launch an interim evaluation of the process has been published which points to some of the learning so far. Continue reading

Girls in Gangs

The Centre for Mental Health have produced a report, A Need to Belong, which sets out some of the health and social risks for girls who are involved in gangs.

Risky behaviours in gangsAs you would expect one of the risks associated with gang membership is substance misuse; on which they say that girls in gangs are between two and three times more likely to misuse alcohol and drugs than the girls who are not in gangs that enter the criminal justice system.

They do point out that drug misuse is even higher amongst male gang members, but don’t comment on the finding that alcohol misuse is by some way the highest amongst girl gang members.

This fits with the correlation between gang membership and drug and alcohol misuse in young people picked out in research for the Home Office back in 2006 and which I wrote about for the Drug Education Forum (here).

The Centre for Mental Health report makes a strong case for early intervention with girls who exhibit the range of risk factors that make them more likely to be involved in gangs, and suggests a set of what look to be to be well thought out policy recommendations.

It will be interesting to see if we see similar things as we analyse the data from our work with Alcohol Concern on alcohol, offending and deprivation which we’ll be publishing later this year.

Teenage Alcohol Use and Educational Attainment

A few days ago I wrote about the links between substance misuse and other risky behaviours and educational outcomes pointing to US research which suggests that the correlations are clear even if the causation isn’t.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be able to attend a conference organised by the Cohort and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources programme about alcohol use by young people and young adults.

As the organiser’s name suggests the focus was on what some of the longitudinal data tells about the outcomes for young people who use alcohol.

I’m sure that CLOSER will share all the presentations but I want to focus on a paper that formed the basis of the first presentation, by Dr Jeremy Staff of Penn State University, who looked at what we can learn about the educational outcomes of young people who use alcohol. Continue reading

School based programmes for smoking prevention

The Cochrane Collaboration have published a review into school based smoking prevention programmes, which updates a review of the evidence base from 2002.

The headline finding is that programmes that combine life skills and a focus on social influence seem to be the most successful, with those trials that were examined showing significant effect at one year and at the longest follow-up point.

Interestingly the review finds that a trials looking at using a social influence model on its own haven’t shown a significant effect, nor have programmes that seek to combine with interventions outside the classroom, or ones that rely on information provision alone. Continue reading

Chicken or Egg? Who cares, the link between health behaviours and educational outcomes are clear

This meta-analysis of 25 years of data from the US makes it very clear that there is an intimate relationship between health behaviours – including substance misuse – and academic achievement.

The paper (which is free to download) looks at the data for the following risky behaviours and educational outcomes:

  • violence;
  • tobacco use;
  • alcohol and other drug use;
  • sexual behaviours contributing to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases;
  • inadequate physical activity; and
  • unhealthy dietary behaviours.

They conclude:

For all six health-risk behaviors, 96.6% of the studies reported statistically significant inverse relationships between health-risk behaviors and academic achievement.

Continue reading

Child Trends – What works for mentoring

Inevitably, given our name, Mentor gets thought of as an organisation that provides mentoring, and on occasion we have supported that approach to sustaining health and wellbeing, but much less often than an outsider might think.

Nevertheless, mentoring has been an approach that has been seen to have potential benefits in preventing substance misuse, so I was pleased to see a recent Child Trends publication about what works for mentoring programmes.

They have three key messages:

  • Generally, mentoring programs that focused on helping children and youth with their education, social skills and relationships were more frequently effective than those focused on behaviour problems such as bullying or programs aimed at reducing teen pregnancy;
  • Mentoring programs targeting at-risk youth, community-based programs, and programs lasting one year or more were more frequently found to be effective; and 
  • Overall, 13 of the 19 programs had positive impacts on at least one outcome. Three programs were not found to be effective on the outcomes measured based on data reviewed.

As with so many of Child Trend’s papers it is a very pity summary of the evidence for programmes and a very useful guide for those thinking about if and how to develop mentoring programmes.