It had been nearly a decade since Scituate FACTS, a community substance misuse prevention coalition just south of Boston, had conducted a parent survey. During that time, rates of teen drinking had increased, and vaping had emerged as a new and concerning behavior. In addition, Massachusetts had legalized adult use marijuana, with new dispensaries opening up regularly across the Commonwealth. The coalition was eager to begin addressing these challenges, but first needed to better understand how the parents and caregivers in their small, coastal town felt about these issues. And to do this, they needed data.
To help the coalition get it, Project Director AnnMarie Galvin reached out to Prevention Solutions@EDC (PS@EDC). Working together, the two teams developed and implemented a survey for parents and caregivers of Scituate middle and high school students.
“The coalition had lots of questions it wanted answered before moving forward,” said PS@EDC Evaluator Shari Kessel Schneider. “For example—what were parents’ attitudes toward underage drinking? Were they the same—or different—than their attitudes toward marijuana use? Were they establishing clear rules to keep their children safe—and enforcing these rules? And if they had questions about how to prevent their children from using substances, did they know where to go for answers?.”
Using the existing survey as its foundation, Schneider crafted a new survey that focused primarily on alcohol use, but with additional questions on conventional cigarette use, electronic vapor products, marijuana, and prescription drug misuse. The coalition was also interested in assessing parental attitudes toward social hosting—particularly around the acceptability of involving law enforcement when alcohol was being consumed by minors in private homes.
To identify these new items, Schneider met with members of the Scituate FACTS steering committee. “It was extremely helpful to hear their ideas and priorities, and then to get their feedback as the tool began taking shape.”
Implementation and Findings
The coalition implemented the Scituate Parent/Caregiver Survey on Youth Substance Use just before the end of the Spring 2021 school year. Parents were invited to participate via emails from the middle school and high school principals, as well as through the Scituate FACTS newsletter and Facebook page. Parent responses were anonymous, and parents were given the option of entering a raffle for one of three $100 restaurant gift cards as an incentive to participate.
PS@EDC analyzed the surveys and shared its findings with the steering committee over the summer. Findings revealed the continued importance of prevention strategies targeting alcohol, the substance most frequently used by Scituate youth. They also confirmed the value of directing future programming toward changing parent norms related to underage use and increasing parent-to-parent communication as a means of keeping youth out of unsafe situations and preventing substance use more broadly.
More surprising were parents’ reported need for guidance around helping their child with mental health issues, and helping their child connect with positive role models, peers, and activities. This suggests that in addition to strategies aimed specifically at substance use prevention, broader strategies to promote youth mental health and positive norms would help not only to prevent substance use, but also encourage youth health and wellness overall.
“Even though this was a survey about substance use, when we asked parents about where they needed most guidance in supporting their teens, it was in the areas related to mental health. Like parents around the country, COVID-19 has placed mental health issues front and center,” says Schneider.
The new survey not only played a key role in helping Scituate FACTs understand the norms, perceptions, and skills of Scituate caregivers—a sector of the community with a major influence on youth substance use—but also provided a vehicle for reaching community members that had not previously been part of coalition activities or messages in the past. “We look forward to using the survey results to inform overall coalition strategy for the future,” says Galvin. “We’re also taking what we learned to develop specific prevention messages for Scituate caregivers that we will include in a social media campaign that is under development.”
To learn more about PS@EDC’s work with Scituate FACTS, contact Shari Kessel Schneider at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read the full 2021 Survey of Scituate Parent/Caregivers on Youth Substance Use Report here.