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Penn State Helps State Agency Identify Its Most Successful Prevention Programs

The Penn State Evidence-based Prevention and Intervention Support Center (EPISCenter) is helping a state agency — which works to prevent violence, delinquency and substance abuse in youth — implement a model that shows which prevention programs provide the most cost-effective services to communities.

The Pew-MacArthur “Results First” Initiative is a systematic way to determine if government-funded programs have research evidence of improving outcomes for youth and families. Based on those findings, agencies determine which programs and services to fund and to what extent.

The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) agreed to be part of a pilot of the Results First model in February, and the EPISCenter, a project of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center at Penn State, is assisting OJJDP with implementation.

OJJDP partners with the EPISCenter to advance the science and practice of evidence-based programs in juvenile justice and delinquency prevention.

“EPISCenter works closely with Pennsylvania policymakers to help them understand the research evidence on what works in preventing youth problems. We provide guidance on how to use that research to make informed decisions about prevention policies and programs,” said EPISCenter Director Stephanie Bradley. “Given the opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania, it’s critical for us to ensure our policymakers understand what the research shows as effective, as well as those programs and strategies that are ineffective and in some cases harmful.”

Research has shown that some programs are very effective at preventing problems like substance use, delinquency and violence, according to Bradley. When public funds are used to support effective programs, those programs keep young people in school and prevent crime and substance use problems. With programs like these, taxpayers and society get a “return on investment” because these programs keep young people out of expensive service systems like juvenile justice and child welfare, which are funded by taxpayer dollars, Bradley said.

Cost-benefit studies have determined that one instance of prevented opioid misuse results in a $7,500 savings, and recent research demonstrates the long-term protective influence prevention programs can have. For example, research shows that adults who participated in the combination of the programs LifeSkills Training and Strengthening Families Program 10-14 while in middle school are less likely to misuse prescription opioids in adulthood. This research was conducted by Max Crowley, assistant professor of human development and family studies, as part of a series of studies on the PROSPER project at Penn State.

“On the other hand, some programs are ineffective — they don’t prevent problems, and in some cases they are harmful — they increase youth risk,” Bradley said. “In those cases, these programs can actually incur additional costs to taxpayers and society by increasing the chances that youth will wind up in the juvenile justice or drug and alcohol systems. Results First helps state agencies know how effective their funded programs are likely to be, and to estimate the return on investment in them, whether it be positive or negative.”

OJJDP has a long history of supporting innovative, prevention-oriented initiatives in Pennsylvania. Since 1999, OJJDP has been providing funding for effective prevention programs for youth and families. OJJDP decided to “pilot” the Results First model as a way to get better, Pennsylvania-specific estimates of the cost-effectiveness of the programs that OJJDP funds.

“We are working on coordinating prevention efforts with our system partners and this project will help us get more specific estimates of cost-effectiveness of the programs we support, which will help inform our statewide planning,” said Mike Pennington, director of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

The EPISCenter has assisted OJJDP with implementing Results First by establishing the actual cost of programs supported by OJJDP and the numbers of youth and families served by these programs.

Other system partners are assisting OJJDP with First Results implementation that are collectively determining the Pennsylvania-specific costs incurred when youth enter into the various systems. Once program costs and systems costs are determined, OJJDP can estimate the anticipated benefit back to taxpayers and society for using effective prevention programs across Pennsylvania.

The EPISCenter supports the dissemination, quality implementation, sustainability impact assessment, and cost-efficiency of proven-effective prevention and intervention programs, and conducts original translational research to advance the science and practice of evidence-based prevention. The EPISCenter represents a collaborative partnership between the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the Prevention Research Center at Penn State, the College of Health and Human Development at Penn State, the Department of Human Services, and other stakeholders.

By Jennifer Cruden

Penn State Helps State Agency Identify Its Most Successful Prevention Programs was originally published on The Pennsylvania State University website.