June 2001 // Volume 39 // Number 3 // Feature Articles // 3FEA6

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The Capable Families and Youth Project: Extension-University-Community Partnerships

The Capable Families and Youth (CaFaY) Project creates partnerships among Extension personnel and researchers at Iowa State University, public schools, other community stakeholders, and rural families. Extension's land-grant mission and widespread local presence provide a unique opportunity to partner in all phases of the project. The preventive interventions implemented in the project were designed to reduce adolescent substance use and other problem behaviors. Schools were randomly assigned to one of three groups to evaluate the impact of preventive interventions in reducing adolescent substance use and other problem behaviors. Multiple assessments will be completed over a 10-year period to evaluate various adolescent and parent outcomes.

Catherine J. Goldberg
Associate Scientist II
Institute for Social and Behavioral Research
Internet Address: catheri@iastate.edu

Richard Spoth
Project Director
Institute for Social and Behavioral Research
Internet Address: rlspoth@iastate.edu

Jim Meek
Special Projects Manager
Iowa State University Extension to Families
Internet Address: jmeek@iastate.edu

Virginia Molgaard
Affiliate Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies
Iowa State University Extension Family Life Specialist, retired
Internet Address: vmolgaar@iastate.edu

Iowa State University
Ames, Iowa


A large body of research has documented that early adolescence is a critical stage in adolescent development at which to intervene in preventing the onset of problem behaviors, such as substance use (Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1995; Spanier, in press; Weissberg & Greenberg, in press). This stage is distinguished by significant physical, cognitive, and social changes in the majority of adolescents (Caplan & Weissberg, 1989). Substance use experimentation at this stage is associated with these developmental changes and may become predictive of long-term patterns of use (Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller, 1992). For this reason, a number of prevention researchers (e.g., Spoth & Molgaard, 1999; Spoth, Redmond, & Shin, 1998; Spoth, Reyes, Redmond, & Shin, 1999) have recommended early adolescence as an optimal developmental time at which to offer preventive interventions that address substance use experimentation during the early adolescent stage.

A recent examination of substance use found higher prevalence rates among rural adolescents than among urban adolescents (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University [CASA], 2000). Specifically, the CASA study found both alcohol use and drunkenness were greater among rural adolescents. The monthly prevalence rate of alcohol use among Iowa youth (11 to 18 years of age) was 26% (Iowa Consortium on Substance Abuse and Research Evaluation [ICSARE], 2000) versus 20.5% in national sample of 12 to 17 year olds (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). Additionally, rates of some types of alcohol-related problems among rural Iowa adolescents are showing a disturbing trend. For example, the "heavy" use of alcohol among rural Iowa adolescents was 4% in 1990, 5% in 1993, and 8% in 1999 (ICSARE, 2000).

To address the problem of early adolescent substance use initiation in rural Iowa, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) funded the 5-year Capable Families and Youth (CaFaY) Project, a collaborative effort between Iowa State University Extension (ISUE) and the Institute for Social and Behavioral Research (ISBR) at Iowa State University. The purpose of the project is to conduct a longitudinal, controlled evaluation study of a multicomponent science-based substance use preventive intervention targeting rural adolescents and their families using an Extension-university researcher-community partnership. Science-based programs use empirically valid methods to consistently produce positive outcomes concerning the prevention of adolescent substance use, as well as the promotion of adolescent mental health and competency building.

This article focuses on a description of the project partnership in which Extension personnel at the state and community level collaborated extensively with university researchers to facilitate linkages between university research efforts, local school personnel, and families in the community.

The focal point of the project is an Extension-university researcher-community partnership aimed at "action-oriented research" (Small, 1995; Spoth, 2000; Spoth & Molgaard, 1999). The project partnership includes two goals:

  • To evaluate the efficacy of universal family and adolescent competency building interventions, using findings to clarify intervention-related change mechanisms; and
  • To develop strategies for Extension-university researcher-community collaboration in the diffusion of science-based family and adolescent interventions.

Background in Extension-University Researcher-Community Partnerships

The project objective is the enhancement of young adolescent and family skills and the reduction of young adolescent high-risk behaviors to ensure that greater numbers of rural young people develop into healthy and adaptive adults. (An overview of the broader program of research, Project Family, including a summary of studies and project manuscripts, is available from the second author.) This objective is realized through a partnership process that includes the problem-focused phase of action-oriented research and the various tasks of preventive intervention research (Elias, 1992; Elias, Gager, & Leon, 1997; Mrazek & Haggerty, 1994).

The partnership process and activities were well established prior to the beginning of the project. These initial activities began with a collaboration between an ISU preventive intervention researcher and an Extension Family Life Specialist. This two-way collaboration eventually evolved into a three-way collaboration among Extension state and field specialists, university-based prevention researchers, and community-based participants.

The initial collaboration inspired an early joint effort in the formation of a prevention-oriented workshop conducted as part of a larger Extension program. Subsequently, the university researcher secured funding from the NIDA to conduct a research project including preventive intervention outcome studies. Collaboration on the Extension workshop and receipt of a preventive intervention research grant set the stage for a series of meetings with other Extension staff to explore a number of specific opportunities for collaboration (Spoth, 2000; Spoth & Molgaard, 1999; Spoth & Redmond, 1996).

An example of a specific opportunity included discussions with Extension staff in the communities where the project was to be implemented. As part of this process, Extension staff consulted on preventive intervention implementation tasks. For instance, input was requested on project school recruitment and recommendations of local residents to serve as preventive intervention group leaders (Spoth & Molgaard, 1999).

The initial collaborative activities, plus the constructive early partnership experience, led to a proposed large-scale longitudinal preventive intervention outcome study. The focal point of the proposal was a partnership among state and county-level Extension staff, university researchers, and community participants. The proposal referred to the Extension System potential in project implementation and large-scale dissemination of preventive interventions.

Ultimately funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the proposal provided further opportunities for refining the collaborative process. Positive intervention outcomes (Redmond, Spoth, Shin, & Lepper, 1999; Spoth, Goldberg, & Redmond, 1999; Spoth, Redmond, & Lepper, 1999; Spoth, Redmond, & Shin, 1998; Spoth, Redmond, & Shin, 2000(a); Spoth, Redmond, & Shin, 2000(b); Spoth, Reyes, Redmond, & Shin, 1999;) provided continued partnership success and an incentive to develop other proposals designed to expand the concept (Molgaard, 1997; Spoth & Molgaard, 1999; Spoth et al., 1999).

It is important to note key characteristics of the partnership development process within the framework of multiple, grant-funded preventive intervention research studies. As a result of this developmental process, the structure and function of the partnership varied to some degree across early activities. In some activities, state- and county-level Extension staff assisted primarily with local implementation activities. For other tasks (e.g., dissemination), Extension staff directed the activities, and university researchers had relatively minimal involvement (Spoth & Molgaard, 1999).

The Capable Families and Youth Partnership

The Capable Families and Youth (CaFaY) Project involves a partnership among Extension staff, university researchers, and local schools and families in rural communities. Funded by the NIDA, the CaFaY partnership has benefited considerably from collaboration with ISU Extension for initial project planning, recruitment, and implementation. The overall purpose of the CaFaY Project is to conduct a longitudinal, controlled study of a multicomponent preventive intervention targeting at-risk rural adolescents and families. In addition, CaFaY provides valuable information in the development of science-based strategies for Extension-university-community partnerships in the dissemination of family and adolescent preventive interventions.

Extension's Role in Project School Recruitment

Thirty-six schools from economically stressed, rural Iowa communities were recruited for participation in the CaFaY Project by Extension staff. There were several steps in the school recruitment process.

  • District level school officials were contacted by ISU Extension to inform them of the project and to obtain administrative approval and support. Subsequently, a packet of informational materials was sent to the school district superintendent.
  • A follow-up meeting with school officials was scheduled and conducted by ISU Extension. During the meeting with school officials, voluntary support and participation of classroom teachers who would be involved in classroom-based program delivery was emphasized.
  • With superintendent consent, meetings were arranged and conducted by ISU Extension with middle school principals to explore potential involvement of their school.
  • Arrangements were made to meet with seventh grade classroom teacher(s) identified by the principal as being likely to volunteer to participate in the project. A presentation was made covering much of the same material included in the previous presentations, but with more emphasis on issues typically of concern to classroom teachers.
  • Classroom teacher concerns and barriers were identified through a series of focus groups collaboratively conducted by ISU Extension and university researchers. During the focus groups, middle school teachers and counselors not involved in the selection pool for the project provided information to assist in structuring teacher training sessions, as well as teacher incentives.
  • A brief interview was conducted with each interested teacher in participating schools. In some cases, presentations were made to parent groups or local school boards to obtain project endorsement. Local Extension staff were involved in these efforts.

Preventive Interventions

The 36 schools in the CaFaY Project were randomly assigned to one of three groups:

  • The school-based preventive intervention group,
  • The school-based preventive intervention plus the family-focused preventive intervention group (the multicomponent intervention), or
  • The control group.

The 12 schools in the school-based preventive intervention group received the Life Skills Training (LST) program (Botvin, 1996; 2000); the 12 schools in the multicomponent intervention group received LST plus the Strengthening Families Program: 10-14 (SFP: 10-14) (Molgaard, Kumpfer, & Fleming, 1997). Parents of adolescents in the schools assigned to the control group received parenting information provided by ISU Extension. The following paragraphs briefly describe the multicomponent interventions.

Life Skills Training (LST). The main goal of LST is to promote skill development, primarily social resistance skills, self-management skills, and generic social skills, and to provide a knowledge base concerning substance use. Extensive research (Botvin, Baker, Dusenbury, Botvin, & Diaz, 1995; Botvin, Baker, Dusenbury, Tortu, & Botvin, 1995; Schaps, Bartolo, Moskowitz, Palley, & Churgin, 1981) has documented that LST is more effective than traditional didactic strategies in reducing adolescent substance use initiation. Further information on the LST program can be found at www.lifeskillstraining.com.

Strengthening Families Program: 10-14 (SFP: 10-14). The long-range goal of SFP: 10-14 is to reduce adolescent substance use and other problem behaviors. This goal is accomplished with parallel SFP: 10-14 adolescent and parent sessions, while a conjoint family session provides reinforcement and skill practice. Additional information on the SFP: 10-14 program can be found at www.Extension.iastate.edu/sfp/.

Both LST and SFP: 10-14 provide adolescents with skills that promote healthy relationships with teachers, peers, and family members, as well as skills that are associated with the reduction of substance use and other problem behaviors. Initial results and findings from the project are reported separately (Epstein, Botvin, & Spoth, 2001; Griffin, Epstein, Botvin, & Spoth, 2001; Spoth, Redmond, & Trudeau, 2001; Trudeau, Lillehoj, Spoth, & Redmond, 2001).

Extension's Role in Project Implementation

Over the course of the CaFaY Project, there have been several implementation phases in which Extension staff played a valuable role, in addition to the recruitment activities described earlier.

  • Extension Family Life Specialists authored parenting materials provided to control group families.
  • Extension Family Life Specialists authored to the family-focused SFP: 10-14 program.
  • Press releases for local newspapers were written collaboratively with local Extension staff. The press release described the CaFaY Project implementation in the local community, plus relevant family and adolescent activities. In addition, Extension staff assisted with dissemination of the press release to local newspapers.
  • Extension field offices were used for numerous project meetings.
  • Extension field staff who were knowledgeable about the SFP: 10-14 were hired and trained to implement and observe the program. Project activities completed by Extension field staff included making arrangements for family meals, childcare, and program incentives.
  • Family program recruitment and scheduling was done with the assistance of Extension staff.
  • Extension staff created local community resource directories and conducted resource directory training, which included a protocol for a family follow-up.

Partnership Benefits from Extension Involvement

Both university researchers and local community residents have benefited from the involvement of ISU Extension in the project. First, the historical integration of Extension and the land-grand university provides the foundation for collaborative efforts. Additionally, Extension staff supplied important information-gathering and consultation activities concerning local community needs and resources, as well as linkages to community stakeholders. Finally, Extension involvement significantly contributed to local community investment in science-based programming critical to the sustainability of science-based preventive interventions for both parents and adolescents.

Extension Benefits from Project Involvement

ISU Extension staff have gained valuable experiences from involvement in the CaFaY Project. Extension staff now bring an enhanced knowledge base concerning science-based adolescent and family preventive interventions to their holistic program planning and implementation process. In addition, connections with schools, community-based prevention efforts, and project families have been strengthened (Spoth & Molgaard, 1999).

Such efforts enhance the ability of Extension staff to plan, implement, and sustain long-term program efforts through the dissemination of science-based preventive interventions that improve adolescent and family competencies. Extension staff visibility has increased within the prevention community, local schools, and the Iowa Department of Education.

Multiple factors have led to the establishment of Extension as an ideal organization to promote long-term sustainability of science-based preventive interventions (Molgaard, 1997; Spoth, 2000; 2001). For example, a widespread local presence, the mission to encourage healthy development of local residents through science-based education and programming, plus staff expertise at local, regional, and university levels, provide Extension with a unique opportunity to promote science-based preventive intervention programs (Spoth & Molgaard, 1999). Building on the CaFaY Project, a model in which local Extension staff will take the lead role in organizing community teams to carry out science-based programs, referred to as the Promoting School/community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience (PROSPER), is in the developmental phases (Spoth et al., 2001).


Preventive intervention programming helps rural parents and adolescents develop skills that prevent the initiation of substance use and other problem behaviors. Long-term follow-up of the CaFaY Project is planned to evaluate the impact of science-based preventive intervention efforts on adolescent substance use and other problem behaviors, as well as various family outcomes. Extension is uniquely positioned to partner in preventive intervention research because of a strong local presence, an integral connection to the land grant university, and a mission to provide science-based programs and information to its constituencies.


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