Adolescent Health

Working with Librarians, Parents, and Youth to Save Lives

September 13, 2023

Nearly nine million children in the United States report having a parent who is suffering from a substance use disorder. However, Dr. Terri Powell and her team are pioneering a new strategy to prevent early substance use among Black youth affected by parental drug use through a novel partnership with librarians. 

The program, known as "Better Together," is a multiphase research project which aims to prevent substance use in young people facing household challenges, including having a parent who is incarcerated, a caregiver with poor mental health, or a parent struggling with substance use disorder. 

 In phase one of their work, the Better Together team conducted interviews with young people, parents, and service providers to gain a deeper understanding of the needs and experiences of these families. In phase two, the team conducted focus groups involving young people, parents, and library staff to assess the acceptability of a library-based substance use prevention intervention. 

To gauge the acceptability of the intervention, Dr. Powell's team conducted focus group interviews with 25 individuals, including nine youth with a parent history of substance use, incarceration, or mental illness, five parents with such a history, and nine librarians. 

Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive. Most highlighted the strengths-focused methodology, positive coping strategies introduced, age-appropriate messaging, and interactive games. One participant remarked, "I love the framing of body, heart, and time. I think that's clear and relatable... It's something that I can imagine a teen saying and embracing." 

Moving forward, the team will also seek to incorporate feedback from youth and library staff on how to integrate technology and better accommodate neurodiverse learning styles. Additionally, they aim to include content that explicitly addresses peer substance use and ways for trusted adults to support participating youth. 

A comprehensive summary of their findings can be found here

Dr. Powell and her team presented their work at the Society for Prevention Research Annual Meeting and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (CACAP) Annual Meeting in 2022. 

Dr. Powell and her team used feedback from key partners to revise the intervention. They will commence a pilot test to assess its efficacy in the fall of 2023. 

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