Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

The Developmental Framework

Matching Interventions to Developmental Phase

Certain risk and protective factors are more common and influential during particular developmental periods. The developmental framework helps practitioners match their prevention and promotion efforts to the developmental needs and competencies of their audience. It’s important to note that many actors affect more than one phase, as do the corresponding interventions. Consider the following scenarios:

  • Scenario 1: A prevention and wellness committee of an urban elementary school reviews recent efforts to reduce substance abuse and improve behavioral health. The committee decides to address identified gaps in programming for kindergartners by implementing a program that focuses on healthy decision-making and critical thinking skills.
  • Scenario 2: A community-wide substance abuse coalition identifies underage drinking as a primary focus for its prevention efforts; coalition members are concerned about alcohol being served at community events and that adults buy alcohol for minors. To address these problems, the coalition decides to implement Across Ages, an evidence-based intervention designed to increase protective factors for high-risk students by matching youth with older adult community mentors.

In both scenarios, the intentions are good but the developmental-appropriateness of the selected interventions is questionable: neither intervention matches the developmental phase of the target audience or addresses the risk and protective factors most influential during that phase. In the first scenario, the intervention addresses competencies that children develop later in life, during their middle-childhood and adolescence. A more appropriate intervention might be one that targets kindergarten teachers, helping them to provide better support for their students’ behavioral health. In the second scenario, the intervention targets individual-level behavior change. A more effective approach might be to reduce social access to alcohol—by enforcing bans on serving and selling alcohol to minors.


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