$2 million NIH grant allows ISU researchers to extend family programs to other states

AMES, Iowa - Research by Iowa State University's Partnerships in Prevention Science Institute (PPSI) has previously shown how PROmoting School-community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience (PROSPER) has been a cost-effective way to strengthen families and communities in Iowa and Pennsylvania, while promoting healthier youth development. And a grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is allowing PPSI researchers to extend the PROSPER model to communities in other states too.

PROSPER is a scientifically-proven delivery system for community and school-based programs designed to reduce risky youth behaviors -- particularly substance misuse -- enhance positive youth development and strengthen families. It has now reached more than 12,000 youths in Iowa and Pennsylvania, with PPSI research documenting improved family functioning and lower levels of adolescent substance misuse and many other benefits. ISU Extension to Families is a partner with PPSI in conducting PROSPER.

According to Dick Spoth, director of PPSI, the NIH grant has been used to train cooperative extension administrators and staff in other states to build capacity in their states for PROSPER implementation. Training to start the actual implementation in selected sites started this month.

"The grant is intended to build capacity to implement our PROSPER partnership model, which delivers tested and proven programs that help kids and families," Spoth said.

"What it [the grant] allows us to do is to walk states through a multi-phased process -- starting with learning about the project -- and then have them map it into their own goals as they go through the implementation process," he continued. "And we would also show them how to form the groups that they would need, like a management team within their state, for implementation of these programs."

Spoth says his research team has assessed the readiness of the states to identify the ones that are best prepared for PROSPER implementation. The research team first surveyed extension systems across the country, and key informants from the 50 state departments of public health and education.

"And we looked at the literature [within public health and education] about what might indicate readiness to implement a project like ours, including a commitment to follow through on quality implementation, the alignment with their [state system's] goals, motivations to innovate the way the model represents, and basic understanding of evidence-based intervention," Spoth said.

For this NIH grant, the researchers found Michigan, New York, Vermont and West Virginia to be the top four states in terms of readiness and invited state officials to engage in advanced trainings and begin PROSPER implementation training. Spoth says Vermont began training this month, with New York also now contracting for services to begin training soon.

"The state management team is the one that will be receiving the training, and Vermont is the first state," Spoth said. "The training will be provided to them and what we call the Prevention Coordinators. These are the people who provide ongoing technical assistance to community teams that in turn, deliver programs to their youth and families. Prevention Coordinators are very proactive and in touch with the [PROSPER] teams and the communities at least every couple of weeks. They assist with anything that relates to effectively implementing these programs, sustaining positive relationships within the community and building awareness in the community."

Spoth says that officials will be encouraged to implement PROSPER initially in one to three communities within their states, with plans to scale up the effort over time.

The NIH support is a two-year grant, now in its no-cost extension period. Spoth says it is being used in conjunction with another three-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control for a controlled outcome study, which is in its final year, for PROSPER implementation in Alabama.