A key influence on the timing of young people’s first alcohol use is the family (Spoth et al. 2002) and a number of substance misuse prevention programmes (mainly in the USA) have tried to influence families. Most are based in schools, which potentially provide an efficient way to reach large numbers of young people and their families (Bryan et al. 2006). However, in practice, school-based initiatives have not always managed to engage significant numbers of parents (Lloyd et al. 2000; Rothwell et al. 2009; Stead et al. 2007; Ward and Snow 2008).
This report describes the findings from an exploratory evaluation of a new school-based alcohol misuse prevention programme – Kids, Adults Together (KAT), which engaged with parents as well as children. The programme comprised a classroom component for children, a family fun evening, and a DVD. The research study evaluated the development and early implementation of KAT, and aimed to establish the theoretical basis for the programme. It explored implementation processes and acceptability, and identified plausible precursors of the intended long-term outcome which could be used as indicators of likely effectiveness.
Mixed qualitative data-collection methods were used during two phases of evaluation. The first phase of the evaluation investigated how KAT had originated and developed; its relationship to existing evidence and theory; and its aims. Methods used were an analysis of thirty-two documents selected by the programme organizers and meant to provide an ‘audit trail’ of programme development up until the start of the evaluation; a literature search; and interviews with six members of the working group who had been involved in setting up the programme, the programme organiser and his assistant, the KAT DVD producer and the organiser of the Australian PAKT programme (on which KAT is based).
The second phase comprised observation of the classroom preparation and KAT family events in two pilot schools; focus groups with forty-one children; interviews with both head teachers and with teachers who delivered the classroom preparation; follow-up interviews with the programme organisers and six Working Group members; interviews with twelve parents who attended the KAT family events; and a questionnaire for parents of all 110 children who had been involved in the classroom preparation. There were two rounds of focus groups and parent interviews: the first as soon as possible after the KAT event at each school and the second three months later.
The main aim of KAT was identified as reducing the number of children and young people who engaged in alcohol misuse. Exploration of the programme’s implementation suggested that family communication should be reaffirmed as its primary objective. This was consistent with the social development model (Catalano and Hawkins 1996) which links family communication with children’s alcohol-related behaviour later in life.
KAT achieved high levels of acceptability among pupils, parents and school staff. Parents enjoyed the fun evening, and thought it was delivered in an, engaging and non lecturing way. Participants thought it was good that the KAT programme had been run in the school setting, and felt that such work should be delivered to children at a young age. Staff in both pilot schools believed that the way in which the evening was promoted as an opportunity for parents to find out what their children had been working on helped avoid a perception that the fun evening was designed to lecture parents.
The KAT programme’s most significant and persistent impact on communication was the effect on family conversations about parental drinking. Many children who thought their parents drank too much alcohol reported trying to change their (parents’) behaviour.
The classroom preparation was effective in promoting communication about alcohol issues amongst members of the class but outside the classroom, its effect was minimal, and until the work had culminated in the fun evening, few children said much at home about it. Most children were very keen to go to the fun evening, to show off their work, to see what it was like and to enjoy the refreshments and entertainment. Many put pressure on their parents to attend.
The fun evening acted as a catalyst for setting off conversations about what children had done in the classroom and activities during the evening. The DVD was effective in extending the influence of the programme beyond the school-based components.
Both children and parents reported having gained new knowledge about alcohol as a result of their involvement with the KAT programme.
There was little evidence that involvement in KAT (as a whole or its constituent components) had led to changes in parents’ or children’s attitudes to alcohol consumption. Overall the children held critical attitudes towards alcohol and the effects which its consumption might lead to. Most parents who were concerned about the dangers of alcohol and the use of alcohol by their children held pre-existing concerns or attitudes.
KAT raised children’s and parents’ awareness of issues relating to alcohol and some parents had thought about their own drinking practices, particularly how drinking alcohol in front of their children could influence them.
Evidence from participants suggested that KAT had only a small effect on intentions regarding future behaviour. These intentions were often stimulated by specific aspects of the programme such as the DVD or leaflets in the goody bag.
There was evidence from some parents and children at both schools that drinking behaviour of parents and other family members had changed as a result of KAT. The effect was not confined to those who had attended the fun evening, suggesting that KAT was able to influence communication within wider networks of family and friends.
The report highlights five main findings from the evaluation of KAT:
- KAT has demonstrated promise as an alcohol misuse prevention intervention through its short term impact on knowledge acquisition and pro-social communication with family networks
- The interaction between the programme’s core components (classroom activities, family fun evening and the programme DVD/goody bag) appear to have been integral to the impact on knowledge acquisition and communication processes that occurred within participating families
- The timing of KAT (its delivery to children In primary school Years 5 and 6) is appropriate both because it precedes the onset of drinking (or regular drinking), and because it engages families whilst they are still a key attachment and influence in young people’s lives
- KAT achieved high levels of engagement and acceptability among parents, and this included some families with problems/support needs in relation to alcohol
- Engagement levels among parents were higher among mothers than fathers. The research was not able to explore the in-depth experiences of those parents/carers who did not or could not attend the KAT fun evening
The following five recommendations are made for the future development and evaluation of KAT:
- Further research is needed to refine and develop the theoretical model of how KAT works, whether short term changes in knowledge, communication and behaviour are sustained over the longer term, and how these processes might reduce alcohol misuse
- KAT needs to be delivered and evaluated in different school contexts to further test its underpinning model, and explore the acceptability and local adaptation of the programme within these settings
Future research needs to explore in more detail the reach of the programme (including the engagement of fathers), examine what barriers to attendance might exist and put in place strategies to minimise them
- Future stages of implementation should clarify if KAT specifically aims to reach families with problems/support needs in relation to alcohol, or whether it is intended as a primary prevention intervention for general school populations
- It is important to address the support needs of children whose attempts to discuss issues raised by KAT (particularly around parental drinking) are rejected or not received positively by their parents
Bryan, H. et al. 2006. On Track Multi-Agency Projects in Schools and Communities: A Special Relationship. Children & Society 20(1), pp. 40-53.
Catalano, R. F. and Hawkins, J. D. 1996. The Social Development Model: A Theory of Antisocial Behavior. In: Hawkins, J.D. ed. Delinquency and Crime: Current Theories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 149-197.
Lloyd, C. et al. 2000. The Effectiveness of Primary School Drug Education. Drugs: education, prevention and policy 7(2), pp. 109 – 126.
Rothwell, H. et al. 2009. Review of the Welsh Network of Healthy School Schemes, 2007-2008: Final Report, March 2009. Cardiff: Welsh Assembly Government.
Spoth, R. L. et al. 2002. Longitudinal substance initiation outcomes for a universal preventive intervention combining family and school programs. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 16(2), pp. 129-134.
Stead, M. et al. 2007. Delivery of the Blueprint Programme. Stirling: Institute for Social Marketing.
Ward, B. and Snow, P. 2008. The role of families in preventing alcohol-related harm among young people. Prevention Research Quarterly (5).
Research Fellow in Public Health, DECIPHer, Cardiff Institute of Society and Health, Cardiff University
Research Associate, Cardiff Institute of Society and Health, Cardiff University