Groups teaming up to assist children

Goal is to prevent risky behaviors

June 15, 2000|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Come fall, Carroll educators, counselors and health officials will borrow the ideas of a national research organization to evaluate the needs of county youths and find ways to prevent risky behavior.

The framework for the effort was introduced yesterday at Risky Business 2000, an annual conference sponsored by Carroll health agencies, social services and educators to halt drug and alcohol use, sexual activity and violence among youths. The conference was held at Western Maryland College.

"What is it young people need in their lives to grow up healthy?" asked Tim Duffey, a trainer for the Search Institute, a Minneapolis-based research organization dedicated to promoting children's well-being.

The institute's goal is to bring parents, teachers and the community together to help create caring, competent children. Its plan is based on "40 assets," characteristics that students who avoided risky behaviors had in common during a 1996 survey.

These attributes include a clear sense of boundaries and expectations, constructive use of time, commitment to learning and a trusted support network of adults within the family as well as the community.

Participants in the conference, which had the theme "Tools for Prevention," agreed with the assessment.

"You need a well-balanced lifestyle," said James Givans, a staff member at About Face, an after-school program for seventh-graders in Carroll and Baltimore counties. "You need to intermingle with other children, with other adults."

"It gets back to basics," said Barbara Rogers, director of Community Health Education at the Carroll County Health Department. However, "what he says sounds like it's really simple, but when you go down the checklist you find so many things we're not doing," she said.

Since 1996, the organization's ideas have been implemented in more than 500 communities across the United States.

Working with the Search Institute, Carroll officials will begin an 18-month project in the fall that will evaluate local needs and resources. The goal is to determine what is not being done to help young people - such as after-school activities.

"We want to work more beyond prevention," Duffey, the keynote speaker, told the conference. "It's really only half of the picture. We need to reduce risky behavior and increase healthy behavior. Absence of illness is not an indication of health."

Duffey, who became involved with the Search Institute while working for Maine's Department of Education, characterized the traditional approach to preventing risky behavior as isolating one problem, when there are usually more: "We look for ways in which we can label young people's risks and find some resources for them. The root causes of all our concerns are similar."

And labeling problem children results in energy wasted in assigning blame instead of solving problems.

"It's not about placing blame; it's pulling together the community," Duffey said.

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