SAMHSA's Service to Science, a national initiative that helps local organizations strengthen their innovative and homegrown substance-abuse prevention programs through improved evaluation methods, will serve 26 programs over the next fiscal year. The programs will receive tailored technical assistance and support that will enable them to better demonstrate evidence of their effectiveness in preventing or reducing substance abuse. The goal of Service to Science is to increase and diversify the pool of evidence-based prevention programs available to states, tribes, and jurisdictions.
Service to Science is administered by SAMHSA's Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies, which maintains a Service to Science representative in each of its five regional service areas. The programs selected for the 2014 cohort hail from 16 states located across the five service areas, as well as one in the Pacific Jurisdictions and another in Puerto Rico.
To be considered for Service to Science, candidate programs must first seek nomination from their states' or jurisdictions' Single State Agencies or National Prevention Network representatives. Nominated programs then apply directly to Service to Science. This year, 71 programs were nominated and 45 applied.
The selection process is a rigorous one, according to Kim Dash, Chief of Service to Science. "We choose programs based on a number of criteria, including innovation in design or focus, responsiveness to local needs, practical experience with populations served, and commitment and readiness to engage in evaluation activities."
Taken as a group, this year's programs serve populations similar to those targeted by previous Service to Science programs, with a few important differences. The majority still focuses on preventing or reducing substance use by youth aged 12 to 18 years and by young adults. Unlike previous years, however, a greater number of programs focus on selected populations—that is, populations that have a significantly higher risk of developing substance abuse problems—than universal populations.
One program, for example, looks at gender roles, communication, and responsible decision-making as strategies to reduce harm and decrease behaviors among populations at increased risk for unprotected sexual activity and alcohol use. Another—an education and prevention program for behaviorally, academically, or socially at-risk first grade students—addresses factors such as depressive symptoms, academic failure, and early initiation of antisocial behavior that place children at greater risk for substance abuse later in life.
Similar to last year, more than a quarter of programs accepted target populations at high risk for substance abuse and for whom few evidence-based programs exist. These populations include African Americans; Latinos/Latinas; Pacific Islanders; women and girls; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth; older adults; those with disabilities; and those facing economic hardship.
Dash pointed out that several programs include culturally-grounded components that were informed by input from the populations served.
The programs selected for 2014 also include programs designed to meet the specific substance abuse prevention needs of rural populations, boys and men, and deaf/hard-of-hearing youth. Several multi-component family-centered programs are participating as well—programs that involve both young people and their parents and typically aim to promote healthy youth development by teaching and demonstrating effective family management strategies and providing other kinds of support services.
Dash explains: "Such programs recognize the important influence of parents up through adolescence in reducing substance abuse risk. They also recognize the potential of positive family experiences to buffer against external stressors and antisocial pressures on youth that are associated with substance abuse."
Participants in the Service to Science initiative are embarking on a yearlong journey. Starting in December, they will participate in a multitude of training and technical assistance activities designed to help them apply more rigorous evaluation methods to their work. These activities include online seminars, onsite consultations, follow-up technical assistance, peer networking, and the opportunity to compete for subcontracts to build evaluation capacity.
"This is the 10th year we've been working with programs through Service to Science and, once again, we have an excellent group of participants. We're looking forward to working with them, and watching their evaluation processes evolve, over the coming months," Dash says.
For the names and locations of the 2014 cohort of Service to Science programs, click here.
For more information on this SAMHSA initiative, contact the Service to Science lead in your service area.