Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

The Developmental Framework

Stages of Development

A developmental approach to prevention helps to ensure that interventions have the broadest and most significant impact. The developmental framework organizes risk and protective factors and their potential consequences and benefits according to defined developmental periods. This enables practitioners to match their prevention and promotion efforts to the developmental needs and competencies of their audience. It also helps planners align prevention efforts with key periods in young peoples’ development, when they are most likely to produce the desired, long-term effects.

Preventing behavioral problems begins with an understanding of how young people develop and how the challenges they face and overcome interact to produce changes in their mental and physical health over their lifetimes. As children grow, they progress through a series of developmental periods. Each of these periods is associated with a set of developmental competencies: cognitive, emotional, and behavioral abilities children need to adapt to new challenges and experiences. Developmental competencies are “essential as a young person assumes adult roles and the potential to influence the next generation of young people” (O’Connell, 2009).

The likelihood of individuals gaining these competencies depends on (1) their foundation of other competencies; and (2) the risk and protective factors they encounter at each developmental stage. This table maps out some of the core competencies and the contextual risk and protective factors for substance abuse associated with each developmental period.


Developed under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies contract (Reference #HHSS277200800004C).


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