As 2023 ends, Blueprints is reflecting upon our mission and purpose. This month’s newsletter highlights Blueprints’ focus, which is on prevention of health-risk behaviors and promotion of positive functioning for youth.
What is Upstream Prevention?
Over thirty years of prevention research has demonstrated that it is possible to reduce negative health outcomes including violence, suicide, and substance misuse before they ever start. This was nicely summarized recently by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Determining and addressing the root causes and conditions that contribute to negative health outcomes is known as Upstream Prevention. Preventing negative outcomes before they ever occur and promoting positive behaviors requires looking upstream to examine what underlying conditions are important to address so the problem never arises to begin with.
Common terms for these underlying conditions include social determinants of health or shared risk and protective factors. These upstream factors are facets of the environment in which people live, learn, work, and play.
What is Prevention Science?
Prevention science focuses on the development, implementation, and evaluation of evidence-based strategies, programs, and policies that mitigate risk factors and strengthen protective factors to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities. Prevention Science is a relatively new discipline (the Society for Prevention Research, for example, was founded in 1991). The field, however, has grown rapidly.
For more information, read the full prevention science statement published by the National Prevention Science Coalition to Improve Lives.
What are Evidence-Based Prevention Programs?
Over the past 30+ years, prevention research has shown that systematically addressing the root causes of behavioral problems and promoting protective and supportive environments will steadily (and cost-effectively!) help people address ongoing challenges throughout life.
Research on periods of vulnerability during youth development and the kinds of social and environmental factors that increase risks associated with problem behaviors have led to the design and testing of numerous interventions that have been shown to reduce risk factors as well as increase protective factors. These evidence-based prevention interventions have multiple benefits including decreased or delayed problem behaviors and better mental health and social functioning in adolescence and young adulthood.
Prevention programs listed on the Blueprints website are implemented at individual, family, school, and community levels and are designed to improve child development, support families, and enhance school experiences. Blueprints focuses on outcomes that benefit youth across a wide range of domains, including child welfare, public health, mental health, educational attainment, and delinquency (click here for more information on Blueprints outcomes).
Several online resources explain prevention and/or offer guidance on how to understand the prevention framework:
- This 3.5-minute animated video, produced by the Prevention Research Center at Colorado State University, answers the question: “What is Prevention Science?”
- This short video defines “upstream prevention” and uses visual analogies to quickly illustrate concepts such as social determinants of health, risk and protective factors, and the spectrum of prevention.
- The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD), in collaboration with Penn State’s Evidence-based Prevention and Intervention Support (EPIS) project, has announced the launch of the Prevention Learning Portal, which is designed to help users apply evidence-based prevention approaches in their work and practice. As the website explains, “The portal serves as a one-stop-shop offering prevention resources, training, and self-paced learning programs.” All trainings and resources are offered in a free, online format.
- ADAPT (A Division for Advancing Prevention & Treatment) published this brief, which identifies Blueprints as a source for locating evidence-based prevention programs. In addition, it (1) summarizes key lessons learned from prevention science that highlight what works to prevent substance use and promote positive development in youth, and (2) presents a five-phase approach to support the development and implementation of a comprehensive community-based prevention strategy. Further, this previous newsletter distributed by Blueprints highlights examples of effective frameworks for broad dissemination of Blueprints-certified prevention programs.
Launched in 1996, Blueprints is one of the longest-standing clearinghouses in the United States and around the world and the only registry solely focused on evidence-based prevention programs.
In preparing for 2024 and future work, we frequently reflect on our focus and role.
Blueprints’ mission is to identify, evaluate, and disseminate evidence about programs that prevent problem behaviors and promote healthy youth development.
We achieve our mission by:
- Including a broad array of programs that address multiple behavioral outcomes for youth, including promoting social-emotional development, increasing educational attainment, reducing poor mental health (internalizing/externalizing) symptoms, and preventing juvenile delinquency and substance use/misuse. [Search programs].
- Establishing rigorous standards for evidence and the certification of evidence-based prevention programs. These standards are focused on determining if a program works and is available for use. We update our standards as methods evolve. [Read more about Blueprints standards].
- Certifying programs through a transparent process involving a thorough review of the evidence, consensus among a multi-disciplinary board of experts, and updating our registry as studies are published. [Read more about the Blueprints review process].
- Providing information on certified programs through a free online and searchable registry, publications, posting on Facebook, Twitter/X, Instagram, and LinkedIn, newsletters, and engagement with communities, funders, policymakers, and government agencies.
- Educating leaders and decision-makers in communities, schools and government about the importance of using evidence when selecting programs. We do this through publications, social media posts, interviews, presentations, and community partnerships. [Check Blueprints news & events].
In conducting our work, we value:
- Partnership, which involves collaborating with communities, nonprofit organizations, practitioners, policymakers, schools, and other social institutions in the United States and around the world.
- Transparency, which requires integrity and using open and ethical practices in our evidence reviews and outreach efforts.
- Science and the use of rigorous, contextual, and experimental evidence.
- Fostering diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice, which entails concerted efforts to undo the negative impact of systems of oppression experienced by underserved communities that have been denied equitable opportunities for creating the safety and stability needed to avoid adverse experiences in the first place.
Going forward (2024 and beyond)
Blueprints’ overarching goal is to generate clear research evidence so that it is useful across the decision-making process and can be actively utilized to support and align social policy actions and investments. In support of this goal, among our priorities for 2024 are to:
- Identify the structural drivers of behavioral health disparities and maintain an inventory of evidence-based preventive programs for youth shown to advance behavioral health equity.
- Provide easy access to meaningful evaluation findings and identify evidence gaps for historically underserved populations.
- Communicate evaluation findings in context, which involves soliciting community voice and expanding upon the cultural relevance of programs listed on the Blueprints registry.
We welcome your ideas as we explore these enhancements to the Blueprints registry and thank you for your continued interest in and support of Blueprints.