UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Janet Welsh, associate research professor of health and human development and senior research associate with the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, has worked in prevention research since 1994, with the aim of improving the lives of people and communities impacted by substance abuse and addiction.
As a key member of Penn State’s interdisciplinary PROSPER program — which stands for “PROmoting School-community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience” — Welsh has played an important role in bringing data-driven, evidence-based prevention programming to communities across Pennsylvania.
Penn State News recently sat down with Welsh to learn more about how PROSPER is impacting the lives of everyday Pennsylvanians.
Q: Can you provide a high-level overview of the PROSPER program?
PROSPER is a system for delivering evidence-based prevention education, specifically to middle school children and their families, using collaboration among schools, community partners, and Penn State.
At the Penn State level, it’s a collaboration between prevention scientists, like me, and people in the Penn State Extension system who work in communities. At the community level, PROSPER involves an Extension educator who serves as the local coordinator for the PROSPER team, which is a collation made up of community members from different groups like the school, mental health organizations, the county drug and alcohol office, and parents. And that group, led by the Extension educator, is responsible for the oversight of these educational programs.
So PROSPER isn’t a ‘program,’ per se; it’s more a delivery system for programs.
Q: What kind of programs have you found to be most effective?
We target middle school because that’s the age where it’s getting close to when kids are going to start experimenting with substances. It’s not too far down the road, where they already have a problem and a universal educational program is no longer going to help. We want to reach them right on the edge of that risk period.
The first program we ask communities to do is a family-based, extra-curricular program outside of school for both parents and youth. Getting the parents involved is critical. I actually did it myself with all three of my own children. In the parent program, you show up, you have dinner together, and the children do their own activities while they teach us parents things like how to set limits in a sensible way, how to communicate with your child, how to pay attention to what your kid is doing and who they’re with—all parenting skills that improve protective factors for kids. Then you come together at the end and you do activities together to practice what you’ve learned.