February 27, 2018

Communities That Care—a proven youth development model pioneered at the School of Social Work—continues to gain traction nationwide. Colorado is one of the most recent states to commit significant funds to this innovative system, allocating $9.1million over two years, funded by that state’s marijuana tax dollars.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment adopted CTC in 2016 and it has been implemented in 48 communities to date. Using prevention science as its base, the CTC program promotes healthy social development, improves youth outcomes and reduces problem behaviors.

“Colorado leaders knew that legalization could increase the risk that young people would abuse drugs,” said J. David Hawkins, founding director of the School’s Social Development Research Group, referring to Colorado’s legalization of marijuana. Hawkins recently spoke to a Denver crowd of 200 at the first in a series of Grand Challenges-themed events, called Social Work Grand Challenges Science for Action, which focused on ensuring healthy development for all youth. "It was exciting to bring together Colorado’s key prevention practitioners, administrators and researchers,” said Amanda Moore McBride, dean of the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work, which hosted the event organized by UD social work professor Jeff Jenson.

Jenson, Hawkins and the UW School of Social Work’s Richard F. Catalano co-authored the national report, Unleashing the Power of Prevention, published by the National Academy of Medicine, which outlines effective prevention strategies for young people. “The widespread adoption of CTC in Colorado illustrates the important role that effective prevention programs and policies can play in reducing substance use and other behavioral health problems,” said Jenson. 

For the CTC model to succeed, the approach must work with the strengths and needs of the community, rather than using a “one-size-fits-all” program imposed by an outside agency. This gives communities the flexibility to address their unique needs and implement proven strategies to address gaps in service and align community-wide programs.

Colorado’s 48 participating CTC coalitions will first assess the specific risk and protective factors among the youth in their region. “Different communities have different levels of risk exposure,” said Hawkins. “Prevention efforts must address the risk factors most prevalent in that community.” Next, the communities pick from a menu of effective, evidence-based programs and strategies to address the specific needs of their local youth. 

About CTC: Since CTC was first implemented, a 24 community randomized trial in 7 states has shown how effective it is. Youth in CTC communities were 25 to 37 percent less likely than those from control communities to engage in smoking, alcohol use, delinquent behavior and binge drinking. The program also offers significant cost savings: For every dollar invested in CTC, $5.31 is returned in the form of lower substance abuse and delinquency costs.

The effectiveness of the CTC model was cited in a recent New York Times opinion piece as one of the top evidence-based prevention programs in the nation, an approach that could be successfully applied to counteract the growing opioid crisis in America.