New Foundations Training Prepares Practitioners for Evolving Prevention Landscape

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With the onset of COVID-19, access to high quality online professional development for substance misuse prevention practitioners has become more important than ever. The short-term effects of the pandemic are well-documented: over the past year, daily use of alcohol and marijuana use has increased, and opioid overdose deaths continue to rise. The long-term effects are equally alarming, as changes in substance use behaviors—such as drinking in isolation and in larger qualities—increase the risk of developing substance use disorders. Practitioners need to be equipped to address these pressing prevention needs with sensitivity, humility, and a keen awareness of the related challenges facing our communities.

Recognizing this need, Prevention Solutions@EDC launched Prevention Fundamentals Online (PFO)—a 20-hour, entirely online training for practitioners new to the substance misuse prevention field and/or working in related disciplines. Offered for the first time earlier this winter, the training prepares participants to address substance misuse prevention within the broader context of behavioral health, and to do so through a lens of cultural competence and humility.

PFO is grounded in current research and SAMHSA’s five-step planning model, the Strategic Prevention Framework. But unlike existing foundational trainings for the prevention field, it focuses more on “preparing practitioners who are working out in the field to hit the ground running, and then to respond quickly and efficiently as new challenges emerge” says PS@EDC Director and PFO co-developer Carol Oliver.

Twenty-seven participants from across the country took part in the training, including federal agency staff, regional prevention coordinators, prevention directors and specialists, and overdose response program coordinators. Over the course of five, 3-hour sessions, they explored prevention theory, examined key elements of prevention planning, and built practical skills in areas such as community mobilization and communications.

Developed for an Online Environment

According to Oliver, one of the things that makes PFO unique is that it was designed to be delivered entirely online rather than being adapted from a training that was originally meant to be in person.

“With COVID preventing any possibility of meeting face-to-face, many organizations moved their in-person trainings online. It was incredibly impressive how quickly they pivoted. But unfortunately, what works in-person doesn’t always translate well to a virtual environment,” says Oliver.

With this in mind, Oliver and her co-developers thought carefully about factors known to influence online quality, such as engagement (include lots of interaction), pacing (keep sessions short), expert facilitation (use skilled trainers with both content and adult learning expertise) and readily available technical support. Their attention to detail paid off, with all participants reporting satisfaction with the event, including one comment that PFO was “one of the best trainings she’d attended: “I learned so much . . . and didn’t feel overwhelmed, Zoomed-out, or cross-eyed by the end!”

Expanded Focus on Health Equity and Community Mobilization

In addition to examining cultural competence—a guiding principle of SAMHSA’s planning model—PFO dedicates time to examining health disparities and the broader social, economic, and environmental inequities that contribute to them.

“Cultural competence is a critical first step in ensuring that practitioners have the knowledge and skills needed to work with specific groups of people,” says Oliver. “But to produce lasting change, practitioners need to think more holistically at how and why different populations experience different health outcomes, and ask the important questions needed to correct these disparities.”

As part of this process, PFO underscores the importance of engaging community member in all aspects of prevention planning and dedicates significant time to partnership development and maintenance.

Online Learning Moving Forward

Oliver feels confident that the need for quality online opportunities will continue to exist in a post-CoVID world.

“During COVID, there was an immediate, pressing need for online trainings. But over the past year, people have begun to appreciate that online isn’t just a “lesser” alternative to in-person. It’s kind of great to be able to attend a quality training without having to travel across the state or give up a full week of work,” says Oliver.

Participants also spoke to the benefits of joining colleagues from different agencies and areas of the country in these learning opportunities. The PFO training included practitioners from across the East and Midwest, providing a chance for participants to develop a shared understanding of prevention basics while also learning about the unique characteristics of different regions. Participants took part in a variety of group activities and shared numerous examples of how textbook prevention played out on the ground.

“It’s inspiring to see how much learning happens when you bring together a group of practitioners who are so committed to their work,” says Oliver. “It will be exciting to see how they take what they learned from the training and use it in their communities.”

Prevention Solutions@EDC will be offering a new session of PFO beginning June 14. Register here.

PFO is endorsed by the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC).