skip to main contentSubstance Abuse Prevention Curriculum Guide
Home Get background information about this site Build curricula, matching population needs to prevention activities Get the foundations to guide your use of the Curriculum Builder Identify activities and materials that will be used in your curriculum Search this site Tutorial, FAQs, and other helpful information

Chapter 3: Needs Assessment and Curriculum Development

Download PDF document of full chapter Download PDF document of full chapter

This chapter provides prevention leaders with the necessary tools to identify the characteristics of the target group, its substance abuse problems, and the institutional resources available for substance abuse prevention. With the assistance of the Curriculum Builder, this chapter will also guide the prevention leader in the development of a customized substance abuse prevention curriculum. When entered into the Web-based Curriculum Builder, the information collected through the needs assessment will be used to automatically identify interactive activities that meet the needs of the target population, thus creating a customized prevention curriculum within the scope of available time and financial resources.

Jump to:

"Just as good physicians get to know their patients and make diagnoses before undertaking treatment, good planners must get to know the population under study and define its problems before recommending actions." (Butler, 2001).

Tasks of the Prevention Leader

  • Conducting a needs assessment to determine the most relevant information about the target population and its immediate environment.

  • Selecting activities according to recommended content areas, emphasizing areas deemed appropriate by needs assessment findings.

  • Considering the National Health Standards (for classroom teachers with mandated health education requirements) and the learning styles each activity engages.

  • Ensuring that the substance abuse prevention activities and materials that accompany them are customized to as many of the target population's demographic characteristics as possible.

Needs Assessment

Balancing the Need for Information With Time and Financial Constraints
  • Prevention leaders who are limited to only basic needs assessment options should be reassured that even these should result in a substance abuse prevention curriculum that is more customized to a particular target population than are other available curriculum options.

  • Prevention leaders who have the resources to conduct more comprehensive needs assessments will likely gain substantially from such additional efforts.

    • The resulting curriculum will be better customized to the needs of the target group by including school-, classroom-, and organization-based data that reflect more specifically the risks faced by each audience.

    • When armed with target population-specific data, the prevention leader may feel more prepared and motivated to be thorough in assembling and implementing a curriculum, further enhancing the likelihood of achieving desired results.

    • The data collection process may create allies in substance abuse prevention in the source institution or community.

Types of Information

  • Demographics and setting:

    • The demographic characteristics of the target group (gender, age, race/ethnicity, and geographic location) will guide the selection and implementation of interactive activities.

    • Most activities are classified by grade level or age. In recent years, an increasing—although still limited—number of activities have been customized to specific ethnic/cultural groups, and a few are designed to address issues related to other demographic characteristics, such as the geographic location of the target group (e.g., inner city/urban, suburban, or rural).

    • In addition, most activities are designed for both female and male youth.

    • Data collected by the prevention leader will most likely be at the class/group level. However, other sources of information, such as school district- or communitywide data may have to be extrapolated to the target audience.

  • Risk and protective factors: (View Chapter 4 for more detailed information)

    • Risk and protective factors for substance abuse are numerous and relate to different aspects of an individual's life (community, school, family, peers, and self). A composite of these factors determines an individual's overall risk for or resistance to substance abuse.

    • A general knowledge of the risk and protective factors to which the target group is exposed can be a helpful tool in determining which substance abuse prevention content areas to stress in the curriculum and, thus, which interactive activities to select and implement.

    • Environmental factors tend to play a more universal role in increasing risk of substance abuse than risk factors that are specific to individuals. Examples may include:

      • School risk factors:
        • Prodrug-use norms
        • Availability of drugs in or near the school
        • Poor school academic climate
        • Lack of, unclear, or poor enforcement of school policies related to substance abuse
      • Community risk factors:
        • Lack of positive afterschool academic programming
        • Lack of positive afterschool and weekend recreational programming
        • Low levels of law enforcement of underage use of both legal and illegal drugs; beliefs that drug abuse is generally tolerated
        • Easy access to drugs
        • Misperceptions of the extent and acceptability of substance-abusing behaviors in school, peer, and community environments
        • Poverty

    • Such environmental risk factors will not necessarily predict substance abuse problems, but exposure to any combination of them may create a need to enhance youths' protective factors.

    • Information on risk factors associated with school bonding and academic performance can be collected through surveys and focus groups with members of the target population.

  • Substance abuse problems, including knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors:

    • Collecting substance use information directly from the target population:

      • Provides insight into what the members of the target population know about drugs and their effects.

      • Tells how they feel about the use of drugs and the resulting problems.

      • Reveals their perceptions regarding both the harmfulness and tolerance of substance abuse.

      • Reveals the extent to which they are involved in the use of substances.

    • Information on the substance use problem affecting the target population can be obtained through surveys and focus groups conducted with that population and/or inferred from other data sources.

    • Other information on substance abuse problems can be gathered through interviews with members of the community and school personnel.

    • Information is often also available from existing sources.

  • Institutional information:

    • In addition to collecting information regarding the target population itself, it is important to gather information on the target group's school or youth organization. This information should include:

      • School/organization policies related to substance abuse

      • The approval process for use of new educational materials on substance abuse prevention

      • Resources available for substance abuse prevention:

        • Time
        • Money
        • Facilities/equipment
        • Personnel

The Information-Gathering Process

  • Using existing sources:

    • Because some of the information sought may already have been compiled, it is important to obtain as much existing information as possible from the target group's community and school. This includes information on recent substance use statistics; prevalence of substance use by age, drug, race, and gender; trends; risk factors; community leaders; and other topics. The following questions can be used as guidelines:

      • What are the main substances being used by young people in the target group's community?

      • What environmental risk factors for substance use do young people in the target group's community face?

      • What are the protective factors for youth in the target group's community?

      • What other information do experts think is needed? (What are the results of previous prevention efforts? What has been learned from those efforts?)

    • The target group's school/organization:

      • Many schools participate in national and/or local surveys related to substance abuse. This and other relevant information may be available in the main office.

    • The Internet:

      • A surprising amount of data can be obtained via the Internet.

      • If the information is not directly available on the Internet, it can usually be obtained by contacting the person or office listed for assistance.

      • List of helpful Internet sites.

  • Interviews:

    • Interviews can be used to obtain specific information from individuals who have information others do not. Interviews need not be extensive or time consuming (they can take place in a few minutes during a break, over the telephone, or even via fax or e-mail) and can aid in obtaining information in these areas:

      • The substance abuse problem and risk factors in the target group's community and school/organization

      • Drug policies and regulations of the target group's institution

    • A list of suggested questions for both community and institution interviews is provided in the Needs Assessment portion of the Curriculum Builder. Step-by-step instructions to help guide the interview process are available in Chapter 3 (full text of chapter, in PDF format).

  • Surveys:

    • Surveys are useful in gathering information on youths' substance use prevalence and knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs.

    • There are several existing surveys that are used to assess the substance abuse prevention needs of youth. One example is the PRIDE Survey, available from the Parents' Resource for Information and Drug Education. The PRIDE survey is a congressionally mandated assessment tool used to track substance abuse among youth in grades 4 to 6 and 6 to 12.

    • An initial step for prevention leaders is to determine if PRIDE or another, similar survey has been conducted in the school attended by the target population and, if not, if one has been conducted in the school district.

    • If these data have not been collected locally, surveys can be purchased from PRIDE (or similar groups), who also will provide tabular reports of the results at no additional cost. More information about ordering surveys is available in the Needs Assessment section of the Curriculum Builder.

    • The PRIDE survey—and similar instruments—assess much of the information a prevention leader would need to know about relevant risk and protective factors, substance use, attitudes, social influences, perceived norms, and perceived harm.

    • Another benefit of information collected from these surveys is that it can be used as a tool to evaluate the effectiveness of the curriculum by measuring changes over time in a given population.

  • Focus groups:

    • A focus group interview is a structured group process conducted in order to obtain detailed information about a particular topic or issue.

    • As with survey data, focus group information can be invaluable in determining which content areas, if any, need to be emphasized, as well as aiding in the selection and implementation of interactive activities.

    • Researchers often conduct focus groups to gather information in an area about which relatively little information is known.

    • Focus groups consist of participants (six to eight is considered a manageable size), a facilitator (or moderator), and a recorder.

    • The goal of focus groups is to garner as much information as possible. Open discussion is encouraged, but under conditions of complete confidentiality.

    • Format of focus groups:

      • Group interaction is used to probe and elicit additional information.

      • The facilitator guides the discussion, keeping it on course, and interjects only as necessary.

      • Both concrete information and opinions are considered relevant, and every response is considered valid.

      • There is no attempt to support or criticize any response, resolve any issue, address any individual problem or concern, or reach any conclusion.

      • The goal is only to gather as much information from as many different viewpoints as possible.

    • A focus group moderator's guide is provided in the Needs Assessment portion of the Curriculum Builder. Step-by-step instructions to help guide the focus group process are available in Chapter 3 (full text of chapter, in PDF format).

Curriculum Development

Using the Web-Based Curriculum Builder to Identify, Select, and Customize Appropriate Interactive Activities and Materials
  • The Curriculum Builder is the tool within the Web-based Curriculum Guide that uses information entered about the target population to select a list of interactive activities and prevention materials most appropriate for that group.

    • Step 1: Settings & Demographics
      The first step in the Curriculum Builder involves entering basic information about the setting, age, gender, and race/ethnicity of the target group, as well as time, equipment, and financial resources available to the prevention leader.

    • Step 2: Needs Assessment
      Next, information gathered from each of the needs assessments is entered into the corresponding Curriculum Builder forms. Based on the data entered, the Curriculum Builder will display a table with the target group's environmental risk factors for drug use, the substance abuse problem in the target group, and the substance abuse prevention content areas that need to be emphasized in the curriculum.

    • Step 3: Appropriate Activities
      In the third step of the Curriculum Builder, the program finds all the activities in the resource library that match the criteria entered for drug, grade, race/ethnicity, and language. The activities are then sorted by how well they match grade, drug, race/ethnicity, and geographic location criteria (e.g., if the curriculum was for 5th and 6th graders, activities that are coded for 5th and 6th graders will be ranked higher than activities coded for just 5th graders or just 6th graders). Finally, the Curriculum Builder separates all found resources into two categories: "Best Matches" and "Somewhat Appropriate" activities.

    • Step 4: Customized Curriculum
      Step 4 of the Curriculum Builder allows for the revision and customization of activities and provides the mechanism through which activities and materials can be either downloaded directly or ordered.

      • While some activities may already be customized to match one or more characteristics of the target group, they can be further customized by:

        • Customizing an aspect or subtopic of the activity
        • Selecting an accompanying substance use prevention educational material that is already customized to one or more characteristics of the target group
        • Selecting a supplemental, noneducational material required for the implementation of the activity that reflects one or more demographic characteristic or substance abuse problem of the target group.

      • Examples for how to customize curricula can be found in the full-text version of Chapter 3 (PDF).

    • Step 5: Curriculum Report
      Step 5 allows for viewing and/or printing of a customized Curriculum Report. This comprehensive report includes all the information entered into the Curriculum Builder, the customized curriculum, and Practical Points to assist in the implementation of the curriculum.

  • See the full-text version of Chapter 7 (PDF) for curriculum implementation guidelines and an example of how to implement interactive activities using a mock target group.

Previous Chapter: Chapter 2 Next Chapter: Chapter 4
  Handbook Preface
Chapter 1: The Nature and Extent of Substance Abuse in the U.S.
Chapter 2: Foundations of Substance Abuse Prevention Curricula
Chapter 3: Needs Assessment and Curriculum Development
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7: Curriculum Implementation
Practical Points

  Site Map
  ©2004–2009, NOVA Research Company