Why form a Parent Action Group? Perhaps there is no parent action group in existence in a given area and a parent or group of parents determine the need for one. Careful consideration should be given to the reasons for organizing a group, since each group member will need to be able to discuss those reasons as well as talk about how the group will benefit the community. Some of the most common reasons for organizing a parent action group are:
  • To establish a support group with which to share parenting concerns, experiences and discuss solutions,
  • To work for change in their neighborhoods and communities,
  • To have a more powerful voice for change in public policy and
  • To learn more about helping young people choose to stay drug free.
Who should be involved? The answer to this question depends on the type of parent group being formed (See "Models of Parent Action Groups"), and what it wants to accomplish. If those organizing the group want a parent support group made up of friends or neighborhood parents, those involved will typically be those that helped organize the group.

How large should the group be? Again, that depends on what the group hopes to achieve and how the group members interact with one another. A Parent Support group, for example, seems to be most effective at no more than 8 to 10 members. Parent Peer and Parent Classroom groups will be self-limited in size. An effective Community-Wide Parent Action Group should be reflective of the size of the community.

Rather than view substance abuse as a problem whose prevention is the responsibility of only a segment of a community (schools, for example), substance abuse must be viewed as a problem of the larger community whose members must share the responsibility for substance abuse prevention. Prevention efforts must reach across and involve multiple and diverse segments of the community. Parents should be recruited from every sector: education, law enforcement, mental health, the faith community, grassroots neighborhood organizations and businesses, for example. Be sure to include segments typically under-involved, such as business and labor (Join Together 1993).

A key reason for including many community segments in prevention programming is that numerous research studies have shown that developing a consistent community wide message has proven to be more effective than individual prevention strategies. Single-shot, uncoordinated drug abuse prevention efforts (e.g. short media blitzes, lectures in schools, alternative youth activities, self-esteem enhancement programs) when done alone are often ineffective or have limited, short term benefits (Muskowitz 1989; Goodstadt 1980: 1987).

It is helpful to include a few people who have some community involvement or volunteer service experience. Also, because working for change involves asking the people with power in the community for their support, it is important to include some "key players" who would be able to make the necessary connections. Elected officials will show an interest in the group the more active and visible it becomes.

Everyone involved in the group should have a sense that they are helping the group achieve the desired goals for change. If a group consists of enough members, committees may be set up to deal with specific areas; one committee may see to the meeting location and refreshments.

Successful organization requires a commitment to the community and a sincere effort to meet the needs of the people and groups comprising the new organization's network. If the organization is seen as a resource for networking, for support and for education, people will want to be associated with it.

The First Meeting will probably involve only those people determined to organize a group. It is important that this meeting, and each successive meeting, have a written agenda. This agenda may either be mailed to the group before, or handed out at the beginning of the meetings. Mailing the agenda beforehand gives members the opportunity to think about the topics up for discussion.

Before scheduling a meeting of those interested in organizing a group:
  1. Check the community and school calendars to keep conflicting activities to a minimum.
  2. Find a place for the meeting. Many banks, churches and schools have rooms available for community meetings.
Sample Agenda for a First Meeting:
  1. Determine what kind of parent group is being formed? (See Types of Parent Groups)
  2. What are the purpose and goals of the new group?
  3. What will the group's name be? (And how will it reflect the group's purpose?)
  4. Identifying a temporary chairperson
  5. When will the next meeting be?
  6. Community resource people to be invited to subsequent meetings
  7. Agreeing upon meeting length for subsequent meetings
  8. A time for networking and refreshments
Suggestion: Regular meetings should be no longer than 1 to 2 hours; special meetings may be called if more time is needed. Sure death to volunteer organizations are;
  1. meetings that drag on and on and
  2. lack of activity or projects.
Agenda items for subsequent meetings should include:
  1. Assessing community readiness for substance abuse prevention strategies
  2. Identifying 2 or 3 areas of concern or community needs
  3. Prioritizing those areas of concern
  4. Identifying solutions to, or tasks toward dealing with the concerns
  5. Identifying resource people and organizations to help with the process
  6. Identifying possible barriers
  7. Determining how to deal with those barriers
  8. Deciding who will be responsible for what tasks
  9. Monitoring progress and measuring success
  10. Celebrations for each forward step
It is important to involve a skillful facilitator early in the process of building the parent action group. A good facilitator will be able to keep the group focused during meetings, not always easy to do, since the issues related to substance abuse are emotionally charged.

There may be people in the group who have family members or friends affected by substance abuse and who feel the need to talk about it. Even though it is important to stay as close to the printed agenda as possible, people should be allowed some time to speak to the group. Perhaps a special time can be set aside for just such sharing. It is important to remember that people most affected by substance abuse tend to be the most committed workers in its prevention.

Guest speakers may be invited to present information of interest to the group; a doctor could speak about the effects of drugs on maturing bodies, a school administrator could present school policy regarding use or possession of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs by students and staff. Be sure the speakers understand their statements are to be brief and allow ample time for questions.

A panel of young people responding to questions regarding what's going on in the community can be an effective way to educate the group. Not only will young people know a great deal about the community the adults may not know, but this gives the adults a chance to learn how the young people feel about the community and gives the young people a voice in the decisions being made.

Recruiting and Retaining Parents

All coalitions face the challenge of recruiting and successfully engaging parents. Many parents respond best to personal contact, either through face-to-face interaction or by direct telephone calls placed by the group leaders. Parents may also be reached by:
  • Announcements at community events and in newsletters
  • Door-to-door recruitment, especially by a neighbor or someone known to the parent
  • Solicitations at churches
  • Invitations to participate through the school.
A critical issue in recruiting is WHO does the recruiting? If done through a church, information about the group may be included in the bulletin or other church publication. If through the schools, letters of invitation may be sent by the school principal. Recruitment by a trusted authority figure and respected peers may also be effective.

Sustaining involvement is usually more challenging than the initial recruitment. Some ways to insure continued involvement may be:
  • Providing child care (could be covered by a local business or parents could take turns staying with the children)
  • Transportation for those who could not otherwise attend meetings (perhaps a collaborative agreement with a local business to cover this cost)
  • Food at the meetings - may be simple refreshments, or may be a meal
  • Payments for time
  • Small gifts for children
  • Special family outings
  • Recreation for older siblings and
  • Tutoring for older siblings.

Assessing Community Readiness for Substance Abuse Prevention

Research has shown that the successful reduction of drug abuse requires the wide-scale involvement of multiple segments of the community (Pentz et al. 1986). This community wide approach to drug abuse prevention allows communities to tailor prevention efforts to their local needs and resources.

Prevention programs created by local citizens are more likely to succeed and continue operating than programs dictated from outside the community (Heller 1990). Therefore, because local solutions are more likely to have a greater impact in reducing the problem of drug abuse at the local level, it is essential that communities possess the capacity and capabilities that are required to address and prevent drug abuse. The community must be adequately prepared to initiate substance abuse prevention efforts; community readiness is vital if a prevention effort is to have a reasonable chance for success.

Materials are available to further help determine community readiness. For ordering information see "Community Readiness for Drug Abuse Prevention: Issues, Tips and Tools" in the Bibliography section of this guide.

Identifying Community Parenting and Substance Abuse Prevention Issues For Change

Define the Community. Exactly who and what IS the community? We all live and participate in communities. A community may be large or small and can be as simple as a few people who think of themselves as "us" and who share some common interests, concerns, or activities. A community may be a political unit (State, county, township, voting district or political party); a place where common public services are shared (schools, parks, shopping centers, utilities); a residential area (town, neighborhood, subdivision or block); or an institution (church, synagogue, neighborhood center, club, workplace, college).

Things to consider when defining the community are:
  • Community Demographics - Who lives in the community? What are the ages, ethnicities, religious preferences? Are there single parent families? Single people? Young people? Senior Citizens?
  • Community Social Life - Where do people get to know each other socially? What are the accepted social activities? How do newcomers meet people? What groups are active in the community?
  • Community Economic Base - What are the industries or sources of income in the area? Where do people spend their money? What opportunities are there? Is there high unemployment?
  • Community Leadership - Who are the community leaders (elected, non-elected, obvious and not-so-obvious)? Which are the influential groups? Who are the people who know what's going on in the community? Who are the people who are skilled, popular or listened to by others?
  • Health and Well-being - What are the major health resources? Are there plenty of things to do for all age groups and interests? What are the health concerns of the community?
  • Values - Are there any "community" beliefs that seem to dominate or affect decision-making? How unified or divergent are people's values? What is the "community spirit" and how is it expressed?
  • Community Communications Systems - How is information spread? What are the mass media outlets and the informal means of spreading information?
Once the community has been described, the following questions will serve as guidelines to help determine direction:
  • What, exactly, is of concern? Why is it a concern? What makes it a concern?
  • What factors contribute to the concern? (For example values, behaviors, attitudes, laws, the economy, social pressures, even what various agencies will or won't do.)
  • How do these factors relate to each other? (Example - if the concern is around the community value that it's okay for high school youth to have keg parties, how does the economy or social pressures relate to that?)
  • What other information is needed to better understand the nature of the concern? Where can that information be found?
  • What are the attitudes or thoughts to be changed? Who thinks that way and why?
  • What are the behaviors to be changed? (Be sure to include the behavior of those who are cause for concern as well as those who interact with them, such as families, friends, employers, teachers, service agencies, etc. as a way to avoid blaming people.)
  • Are the concerns about lack of information, misinformation, or a lack of skills or services?
  • Who are the people involved with this concern and in what way? (The answer to this question will help determine the many different people to involve and communicate with, all of whom can assist in some way to resolve the concern.)
  • What will be done to resolve the concern?
Focus Groups are one way in which the above questions can be answered. A focus group may be part of the first or second meeting of the parent action group.

The most effective size for a focus group seems to be about 8 or 9 people. If the overall group is 15 or more, it should be split into smaller focus groups. Each focus group will answer the questions outlined above and a designated "scribe" will write the answers down on newsprint (which will later be transcribed and sent to members for reference purposes). Those responses will help the parent group focus their efforts. The transcribed results of the focus group will be used as the basis of group discussion at the next meeting to help identify common threads of community concerns, to prioritize those concerns, to select 3 or 4 upon which to focus and then to develop strategies to deal with those concerns.

Canvassing the community will also glean important information, but is more time-consuming and labor-intensive than a focus group. "Canvassing" is actually going door-to-door, or telephoning the people in the community and asking questions about their concerns for the community. Barriers to this approach include: what time of the day to reach people who may be working? If telephoning, when will this be done, since most people do not like to be disturbed at home after work by someone on the phone. A positive aspect to this type of information-gathering, however, is that people are given the opportunity to express ideas and concerns one-on-one without any possible pressure which could occur in a group dynamic.

Generating a Statement of Purpose or Mission
It is important for the group to generate a statement of purpose or mission early in the organization stages. This will not only give the group a sense of identity, but will help define and focus its programs and goals. In generating the statement of purpose or mission, it is helpful to ask the question "Who are we and why are we here?" As the group discusses this question, a volunteer should write down the ideas on newsprint so everyone can watch the process.

Length of Mission/Purpose Statement
Although it is best to keep the mission/purpose statement brief and as succinct as possible, the length of the mission/purpose statement is entirely up to the group. Some mission statements are only a few words long; others are several sentences long. The tendency is to either write too detailed a statement or to generate too global a statement. But the most important consideration is that the statement be both generated by and acceptable to the members of the group. It may help to use the following open-ended statements as catalysts to creative discussion:
  • The purpose of (group name) is to . . .
  • We want to accomplish . . .
  • We want to help our community by . . .
  • As parents, we want for our young people . . .
Sample Statements of Purpose/Mission
Following are some statements of purpose/mission for reference:
  1. Lead and support the community and parents in nurturing the full potential of drug free youth
  2. Do whatever it takes to come between our young people and drugs
  3. Identify those factors in our community which encourage our young people to abuse substances and work to change them
  4. Inform the community of the economic and social costs of substance abuse; Determine what works in prevention; and Educate parents about the dangers of underage alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use on developing youth
  5. Provide support to and enhance community alcohol, tobacco and other drug abuse prevention efforts thereby enhancing overall health of the community
Selecting goals, objectives and strategies/tasks to achieve the goals
Many people use the terms "goals" and "objectives" as if they were the same. In planning, however, these words carry different meanings.

What is a Goal? A goal is an ultimate outcome of a long period of activity. It sets the general direction for the work performed. Goals should be chosen that are in line with the group's statement of purpose or mission; there should never be a conflict between the goals selected and the purpose of the group. If that happens, the group needs to re-assess what they hope to accomplish. It may even need to change focus and generate new goals.

Because the problem of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use among America's young people is so widespread, identifying the problems will probably not be difficult. The results of the focus groups and/or of any canvassing that is done will undoubtedly yield many concerns from which the group can choose.

After looking at the community for what needs to be changed, the next step is to select 2 or 3 of those goals upon which the group wants to affect change.

Clear-cut goals provide the best means of staying on track and being able to measure your success. The goals and objectives will need to be based on:
  • Purpose of the organization
  • Realistic capabilities of the organization
  • Community needs
Remembering that a goal is a desired outcome, an objective is a measurable way to get the goal achieved, and Strategies/Tasks are the activities to achieve the objectives:
  1. Review the list of identified concerns
  2. Prioritize them and select 2 to 3 for recommendation as goals to the group
  3. Determine objectives - Identify the ways to help make the goals reality
  4. Identify tasks to support the objectives - such as seminars, brochures, workshops, community forums, petition-signing drives, etc.
Prioritizing the concerns/needs expressed by the community and selecting 2 - 3 as goals that are winnable and do-able may require more thought. Examples of areas that may need work are:
  1. School district policy regarding possession or use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs, acceptable dress, closed or open campus issues, rules for athletes regarding substance use, etc.
  2. Curfew issues
  3. How far from school campuses are liquor stores, billboards with tobacco or alcohol ads,
  4. Does the convenience store near campus sell tobacco products to under-aged youth?
  5. How to get substance abuse prevention information out to the community
  6. What are local law enforcement procedures regarding arrest for underage drinking or possession or use of illegal substances?
  7. Are laws on underage drinking and possession or use of illegal substances enforced?
  8. Are there areas of the community where it is known that young people can get drugs - such as a crack house?
  9. Are there any recreational alternative activities for young people?
  10. Any plans for safe prom night activities?
  11. Are there any safe homes near campus where young people can get help if the need arises?
  12. Are effective parenting programs available to the community residents?
This list is far from complete. Each community is unique, with its own unique set of problems and needs. The key is to find out exactly what the needs are. Talk to the young people. They usually have a great deal of information about what's going on in their communities.

A good way to develop prevention goals is to assign the task to a small number of individuals who are familiar with the concerns which were identified. The group can then analyze the identified concerns point by point, drafting a goal statement for each identified problem area.

A draft of the goals/objectives/tasks statements may be submitted to other interested members of the community for review, comment and possible revision. This is especially important when planning for an entire neighborhood or a whole community. The more people involved in the early stages of the planning, the greater the support available once the program begins.
    Sample goals
  • Reduce Student Alcohol, Tobacco and Illicit Drug Use
  • Foster and Change Community Attitudes Regarding Drug Use
  • Make the Community Safe From Illegal Drug Use
  • Support Healthier Lives for Families
  • Promote a More Productive Workforce
  • Increase Coordination Among Government, Businesses, Schools, Service Providers and Citizens
What are Objectives? Objectives are specific accomplishments to be achieved during a given period of time. For example, a family's vacation goal might be "to see the major sites in Washington, DC." The objectives might consist of places to visit on specific days. In other words, the objectives help achieve the goal, or general purpose, by translating it into a series of specific, manageable steps.

Objectives may be identified by answering the question "What measurable results of projects/programs that will work toward our goal (s) can be achieved in what length of time?" The objectives associated with a given prevention goal are basically the milestones that must be attained in reaching that goal.
Sample Objectives
Using the first sample goal above, "Reduce student alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use," some objectives to help reach that goal might include:
  1. Offer two parent education and skill building trainings over the next 6 months to at least 100 parents (since research tells us parents play a very important role in whether their young people use tobacco, alcohol or illicit drugs)
  2. Over the next 6 months, check all the convenience stores within a 10-block radius of the high school to determine if they are selling tobacco to underage youth
  3. Disseminate marijuana information sheets to 500 families within the next 2 months
  4. Pass out flyers to 100 homes in a given neighborhood to invite them to a community meeting about billboard with alcohol and tobacco ads within the next 45 days
It is important that objectives be written in measurable terms so there is no question about when and whether they have been achieved. Without a target date and number the parent group, and certainly any funding agency, will likely disagree on whether or not that objective has been reached.

Specifying a measurable target to reach in a given amount of time also helps planners select objectives that are realistic and attainable. The tendency is to be too optimistic about what can be done in a short period of time. At the same time, dividing the work into manageable amounts will help planners identify the resources required and deadlines for obtaining them.

Setting objectives requires careful thought. The best approach is to begin with a prevention goal that has a high priority for the community. List all of the short-term results or conditions that must be attained to reach the goal. Next, select those results from the list that can be achieved during the first 6 months of the program's operation (it is better to underestimate rather than overestimate what can be accomplished). When this list is completed, select the things that could be achieved during the first 12 months. Items on the list that cannot be achieved during the first year are classified as long-term objectives. Also, establishing time lines and budgets for each objective will be of tremendous assistance during the evaluation process.

What are Strategies/Tasks? Strategies, or tasks, are the actions taken in pursuit of accomplishing objectives. In the earlier family vacation example, the goal was to "see the major sites in Washington, DC," and the objectives were to "see specific places on specific days." If one of the objectives is to visit the Smithsonian Institute on Tuesday, the strategies/tasks necessary to make that happen might include: checking mass transit stations, costs and routes; checking if there are tickets required to get in, and if so, at what cost; etc.

The following figure is for clarification of this model. The goals will be driven by the statement of mission or purpose; for each goal, there will be several objectives and several more tasks associated with each objective.


Each task helps achieve an objective; each objective helps achieve a goal; each goal is tied to the Statement of Purpose.

When Parent Action Group Members Disagree

All groups of people at some time or other experience internal conflict. Conflict in and of itself is not a negative thing. In fact, some types of conflict are positive and can stimulate growth and progress of the group.

Conflict and Consensus-Building

Conflict is destructive when it:
  • Diverts energy from important activities and issues;
  • Destroys morale or divides the group;
  • Deepens differences;
  • Diminishes cooperation and group cohesiveness;
  • Breaks down communication; or
  • Reinforces judgmental or stereotypical thinking.
Conflict is constructive when it:
  • Surfaces concerns or clarifies issues;
  • Results in authentic communication;
  • Results in the solution of problems;
  • Broadens perspectives and alternatives;
  • Builds cohesiveness among people by working through tough issues; or
  • Helps individuals apply what they have learned to future conflict situations.
A good way to deal with negative conflict is to follow these problem-solving techniques:
  1. Clarify the problem. What makes the problem important to the group? What is the issue? Where do the members of the group stand on the issue? The time spent at this stage, even when members are anxious to get on with recommending solutions and strategies, is critical.
  2. Generate solutions. All possible solutions should be raised in a brainstorming effort. Do not spend time haggling over whether or not certain solutions can be achieved; just get down on paper as many proposed solutions as the members of the group can generate. Everyone should feel free to make suggestions - and not have to justify those suggestions.
  3. Evaluate solutions. Logic and data should be emphasized as the group considers, challenges, questions, probes and tests the proposed solutions. Now is a good time to develop criteria for choosing a solution.
  4. Select the best solution. This involves deciding together (not necessarily voting) on the best solution. The one solution most acceptable to all parties should be selected - consensus rather than voting. Make sure the "best" solution is in relation to the defined problem, and not simply the easiest way out.
  5. Implement the solution. How will the agreed-upon solution be carried out? Who will be involved? Be specific - otherwise people may assume someone else will do it.
  6. Evaluate the implementation of the solution. Plan for an evaluation of the solution after a specific period of time. Is the solution working? Are those involved satisfied with the outcome? The first solution chosen is not always the best or most workable - the group may need to consider alternate solutions or begin the problem solving process again.