Communities That Care addresses risks, benefits for Eagle County’s youth

EDWARDS — Eagle County is a community that passionately cares about the well-being of its kids.

Now, thanks to funding from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s marijuana tax cash fund, there are dollars available to support the community’s efforts on behalf of local youth. In Eagle County, the funding is roughly $100,000.

The state has allocated the marijuana money to fund substance abuse prevention among youth using the Communities That Care process across Colorado.

The Communities That Care model originated from the University of Washington and has been widely implemented across the nation during the past 20-plus years. There are currently 47 communities engaged in this work across Colorado, and locally, Eagle County Public Health has partnered with the Eagle River Youth Coalition to oversee the Communities That Care process since 2016.

The central objective of the Communities That Care model is to help communities prevent problems before they start.

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“Our goal is to promote the positive development of children and youth and to prevent adolescent risk behaviors — specifically alcohol, marijuana and other drug use — and youth mental health challenges,” said Sandra Schroeder, Eagle County Communities That Care coordinator.

“We do this by addressing strengths and problem behaviors, also known as risk and protective factors, common in youth lives here in Eagle County. This is accomplished with the help of the Communities That Care board — local leaders, residents and youth advisers. We work together to affect change through policy and systems-level strategies”

Data driven

“Our vision is that Eagle County is a place where youth thrive,” Schroeder continued.

That may sound like a nebulous objective, but the Communities That Care model takes a data-driven approach to the goal.

Because of widespread local participation in the Health Kids Colorado survey, Eagle County Communities That Care has a great database to begin its work. The expansive survey covered topics ranging from school safety to substance abuse to mental health. It revealed positive trends in the community and issues of concern.

For example, 91 percent of the students surveyed said they feel safe at school, and 75 percent said they were involved in school sports or activities. But 3 out of 5 high school kids said it is easy to obtain alcohol.

During a recent meeting of the Eagle County Communities That Care key leaders group, members noted much of the survey information is encouraging.

“A lot of these results make it sound like we are doing a great job,” said key leader Scott Schlosser. “Is the mission to keep them on track?”

“Just like anyone can be a good reader, you can always be a better reader,” Schroeder responded.

Because the Communities That Care effort will reach out to different audiences, it is important to emphasize different survey information to the various groups, noted Mandy Ivanov, health promotion coordinator for Eagle County Public Health. For instance, it is important to push the positive messages for kids who are dealing with peer pressure. But for community agencies and individuals who can affect various risk factors for youth, it is important to share the more sobering figures.

Action Plan

After combing through the data, Eagle County Communities That Care has identified three priority risk factors:

• Availability of substances: The more available alcohol and other drugs are in a community, the higher the risk for alcohol and other drug use and violence. Perceived availability of drugs is also associated with increased risk.

• Community norms that are more favorable to drug use: When laws, tax rates and community standards are favorable toward alcohol and other drug use, or even when standards are just unclear, it puts young people at higher risk.

• Youth attitudes toward substance abuse: During the elementary years, children usually express anti-drug, anti-crime and pro-social views. In middle and high school, their attitudes may shift toward greater acceptance, placing them at higher risk.

Likewise, Communities That Care has identified priority positive factors in Eagle County:

• Opportunities for positive social involvement in the community: Young people report opportunities to participate in positive activities and interactions with pro-social adults in their neighborhood.

• Opportunities for positive social involvement in schools: Opportunities are available for young people to participate meaningfully in their classrooms and schools.

• Opportunities for positive social involvement for families: Young people report having opportunities to participate meaningfully in family responsibilities and activities with their parents or caregivers.

The next step in the Communities That Care process, Schroeder said, is to create an action plan that reflects what the group has learned through its research. That action plan will be expansive and involve dozens of community groups who work with youth and families. The goal is to roll out the document this spring.

“People are wanting to know when we are going to start seeing the things that are going to be happening in our community,” Schroeder said. “We are hitting the road now.”

In the end, the Eagle County group hopes it can mirror the results from the entity that pioneered the process. The University of Washington Social Development Research Group determined that Communities That Care efforts return $5.31 per $1 invested in its prevention programs.

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