• By Louise Morpeth
  • Posted on Friday 04th December, 2009

To Tooele, Utah, to see CtC in action

My day began with a 30-mile bus ride from Salt Lake City to Tooele, a town of 30,000 people in the Salt Lake valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains. I was not alone, there were 20 of us, off to visit a flagship Communities that Care project. The community’s pride in their achievements was apparent in the enormous efforts put into the programme arranged for us. The town has the lowest per capita income in the state of Utah, but this relative poverty wasn’t apparent as we drove around. The majority of dwellings we saw were good-sized detached houses, many with large gardens and with four-by-four vehicles parked on the drive. We saw community facilities – a cinema, golf course, shops, fast food outlets and many churches. Most residents are Mormons.The town population has doubled in ten years. This put pressure on the school system and led to the building of a number of new schools. We visited Clarke N Johnsen Junior High to observe the delivery of Life Skills Training, one of several evidence-based programmes being implemented. The school was modern, airy and clean. We were warned not to dawdle as we walked to our classroom, as at 10.06am 800 children were to hit the hallways to move to their next lesson. We sat at the back of a class as 20 12-year-olds (7th Grade) sauntered into the room to take their places for their science lesson. We witnessed a very able young female teacher adeptly manage conversations about attraction and dating with a group of cheeky, vocal adolescent boys and girls. We knew exactly what she was expected to do with the class as we had the checklist from the curriculum – it specified what should be covered, how and for how long. She did this effortlessly and with 100% fidelity to the model. The children were engaged and some clearly enjoyed being able to demonstrate to their classmates how they would ask someone out on a date.The teacher and the children seemed totally unfazed by having seven strangers sitting at the back of the classroom. We were later told that anyone delivering a CtC evidence-based programme expects to be regularly observed as it is part of the commitment to maintain a high level of fidelity. There also seemed to be a culture of openness, where people wanted to do the best they could for children and saw observation not as something critical but as something that would help them do their job better.We then headed back to City Hall to hear more about CtC’s history and achievements. We had been told during our training that some elements were critical: a skilled co-ordinator, champions, sign-up by key agencies, a common understanding of prevention science, a commitment to fidelity, decisions driven by data and so on. It’s one thing to hear about them in the abstract but something else to witness the result in the flesh. We were warmly greeted by a smartly dressed, tanned man, who, at a guess, was in his early sixties. This was Milo Berry – recently retired CtC coordinator, long-term resident of Tooele and a teacher in the community since 1967. He was clearly very well-liked and respected by all those involved with CtC and part of the explanation for the project’s success. He set the scene. Immediately the language was familiar. He talked of the project’s champions – the Mayor, Chief of Police and Superintendent of Schools – and of the Community Board, the survey of risk and protective factors and the importance of fidelity.A succession of people gave their perspective on how the project had transformed their town. A member of the risk and protective factors working group explained how they scrutinised the data that is gathered via the school survey and then make recommendations to the board about the targets and priorities. She said “I like the cold hard facts; it’s so much better to make decisions this way and not to rely on anecdotes”. We heard how every risk factor had decreased slightly or significantly since the project started in 2004 and that the data had helped the county secure $3 million for prevention programming.As part of the town’s efforts to recognise their young people’s positive achievements, they created the Mayor’s Community Recognition Award. Young people can be nominated for their positive contribution and they are then invited to receive an award from the Mayor at the beginning of a council meeting. They get a certificate, a bag of goodies and their picture in the local paper. Perhaps more importantly, the council chamber is packed with friends and relatives who go along to see the presentation of the award. The council men and women also get drawn into the work of the project, so that when it comes to budget setting they already have some sense of what the project is trying to do.Even six years down the line, they still have a clear vision and a sensible programme of work. They have four evidence based programmes (three school based and one for families). They give training on the basics of prevention science to every person, working face-to-face with children in school in the county; they collect risk and protective factor data and are expanding their activities to change community norms. The local cement company, for example, has painted the slogan ‘Teens and alcohol don’t mix’ on the side of all their mixers.To wrap our day in Tooele, Milo assembled a panel of 12 people who represented the array of different interests in the town, from Shelly, a 16-year-old High School student to Debbie, the Director of the Chamber of Commerce. The Mayor kicked things off by explaining how funding for CtC was now a line item in the city’s budget, and that it remained untouched even when the city was having to reduce its overall spend. When asked just how much it cost he replied “We have $150k in the budget but there are a lot of intangibles too – like access to city hall and other supplies”.The Police Chief explained how he had reluctantly been persuaded to disinvest police resources from DARE (a very popular but largely ineffective drugs education programme) to fund Lions-Quest SFA (a proven programme). He strongly believed that having a uniformed officer in school was an important way for students to ‘bond’ with the police. It was not the research evidence that swayed him, rather the pressure applied by his colleagues on the board and that Lions-Quest is integrated into the curriculum and not a standalone programme like DARE.His officer, Becky Bracken, had been the deliverer of DARE and then took on responsibility for Lions-Quest. She had students who had received both programmes, and when asked which they preferred were very clear about their preference for Lions-Quest. The programme helps children to understand that most young people do not drink alcohol, have sex or do drugs but that many say they do. She told a story of a ‘light bulb moment’ for a child, when he realised that the very peer-pressure that he felt to try alcohol could be turned the other way to get his peers not to do these things since the non-drinkers were actually the majority.The panel also included a representative of SAMSHA from the state. She explained how the results of the evaluation of CtC in Tooele had elicited interest from communities across the state. They are now going to offer matched funding to any community wishing to set up a CtC project.Tooele is a fabulous example of CtC in action. It appears to act as a focal point for all community efforts to prevent problem behaviours and is edging towards sustainability as the way of working gradually gets embedded in the city’s systems. The impact of CtC is evident in the data they collect from young people but not yet visible in the administrative data: receipt into care and juvenile detention are so far unaffected. For the people who hold the purse strings, this is not what matters – they have a mission and it would seem that little will knock them off course.

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