By Mark Powell
Preventing Addiction from All Sides
You can’t use what doesn’t exist.
That realization came to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Annette Escalante and Jill Burke as they were looking for prevention and early intervention resources in New Hampshire’s schools. They had an infrastructure in place for successful addiction response in many areas, but something was missing.
“A well-rounded prevention program was our missing link and we wanted to leverage evidence-based programming,” says Annette.
Impressed by the Project SUCCESS model, Annette and Jill did what people hoping to make a change sometimes do: they applied for a grant. Their proposal was funded and Student Assistance Programs (SAPs) began in five schools in 2013.
How do SAPs work?
They’re very similar to Employee Assistance Programs. SAPs use embedded student assistance counselors to assess students and refer them down avenues of prevention including education and individual or group counseling that are right for them.
Guidance counselors and teachers can refer students to the SAP; many are self or peer referred. Speaking about student assistance counselors, Jill says, “What makes this program is having that trusted professional embedded in the school as a resource.”
Student Assistance Programs don’t forget about the key figures in students’ lives: their parents. As part of the program, parents are provided with prevention education and resources to help their children.
SAPs see culture as an important factor. They use universal activities to reach the entire school. These activities don’t just involve your typical school assemblies. For example, it can be a wall displaying how substance misuse affects families or a display of statistics regarding student substance use to change the narrative related to substance misuse.
SAPs expanded rapidly since 2013 and are now offered in over 55 schools. Community buy-in was the key to expansion. “The state understands the importance of investing in these kinds of programs and once these programs are in the school, the community, the schools, and the parents see the innate value of this program. There is considerable local support which helps to sustain and expand the program,” says Jill.
The success of Student Assistance Programs shows that a little bit of culture change and a lot of support can make a big difference.
New Hampshire Student Assistance Program was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.