San Juan Basin Public Health is currently working on improving the well-being of youths across La Plata County through the implementation of the Communities That Care framework.
With the support of Gov. John Hickenlooper and state marijuana tax dollars, SJBPH is able to provide our community with a tested and effective primary prevention approach to reducing youth problem behaviors and promoting positive youth development. By bringing prevention work to the hands of the community, CTC creates true systems change from a grass-roots level.
Imagine a baby just born in La Plata County. The parents hold and coddle the baby. They go home from the hospital. The baby starts to grow into a toddler, crawling, crying, giggling and eventually starting to pull itself up to stand. It starts walking and cruises right along into elementary school. They keep developing into high school, drive a car for the first time and go on their first date. Then they go off to college. For our sake, we’ll say they go to Fort Lewis College. They struggle being on their own, but they get through it and eventually graduate. They then get a job in town. They are no longer a child. They are an adult. They are our future medical professional, teacher, business owner, artist, clergymen, public official, lawyer, etc. Essentially, we as a community are raising adults – not children. Thinking this way, what are qualities that we want to instill in our children that will then manifest in the adults of our community?
Communities That Care is an upstream approach to addressing youth problem behaviors such as substance abuse, delinquency, depression/anxiety, truancy and teen pregnancy. Instead of trying to correct these behaviors as they occur, the CTC framework tells us to examine the factors that lead to the problem behaviors – the risk factors – as well as the factors buffering a young person from the problem behaviors – the protective factors. CTC’s goal is to decrease the risk factors while simultaneously increasing the protective factors.
Another pillar of CTC is the “Social Development Strategy.” SDS is an easy-to-use approach when interacting with youths and essentially aims to create a stronger bond between our young people and their community. First, we must make sure that we’re providing developmentally appropriate opportunities for our youths. Second, we must ensure that we are teaching them the skills they need to succeed and thrive. Third, we must give recognition to our youths for not only their achievements but for their efforts for improvement. In doing those three things, we create a bond, and when they feel cared for, they are more likely to act toward our clear standards for healthy behaviors.
CTC’s work is guided by youth input by way of results from the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, a comprehensive survey on the health and well-being of young people in Colorado. Every middle school- and high school-aged person across La Plata County takes the HKCS. CTC aims to empower these young people to take the lead in creating a stronger, safer community that values youth voice and promotes positive development. With this data and youth involvement, CTC is a more informed and robust system for building an environment that allows our kids to become the adults we want to see in our community.
CTC is only successful if owned by everyone in our community, from the education sector, to primary care providers, teachers, families, faith-based community, local elected officials, law enforcement, business owners, youth-serving professionals and youths themselves. It’s a systems change approach to preventing problems from ever occurring. It’s a language and a way of thinking that must permeate our community from every angle.
If you’d like to be part of empowering our young people, contact Kate Jones at 335-2084 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lauren Pope is communications specialist at San Juan Basin Public Health.