2023 March 27, Monday
Communities That Care (CTC) made great strides in Washington County, Nebraska, since its implementation in the fall of 2021. The initiative, led by Coartney DiGiorgio (Health Educator, Three Rivers Health), focuses on Washington Coutny to tackle unique challenges faced by youth and families, to reduce risk factors and increase protective factors to prevent problem behaviors.
For nearly three decades, “Communities That Care” (CTC) is at the nationwide forefront of youth development and prevention efforts, and serves as a beacon of hope for communities who want to create a positive environment for young people. The program, grounded in evidence-based research and prevention science, aims to foster healthy development of young individuals through communities with tools necessary to address important adolescent health and behavior concerns.
The primary goal of CTC is to reduce risk factors and enhance protective factors that contribute to positive health and well-being among adolescents. They use a proactive approach, and focus on empirically-identified risk and protective factors to address like substance abuse, violence, delinquency, and school dropout.
“CTC provides a structure for engaging community stakeholders, a process for establishing a shared community vision, tools for assessing levels of risk and protection in communities, and processes for prioritizing risk and protective factors and setting specific, measurable, community goals,” notes Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development, emphasizing the program’s collaborative and community-centered approach. Through the implementation of CTC, communities are empowered to take an active role in shaping the future of their youth, contributing to healthier lives and brighter futures for the next generation.
Washington County Communities That Care coalition has its own vision statement: Washington County is a proactive community that collectively empowers youth to be healthy and engaged citizens.
As the “Communities That Care” program evolves and expands, its vision of nurturing the holistic development of young individuals remains a guiding light for communities that want to make a positive difference in the lives of their youth.
The CTC process began in Washington County when the Three Rivers Public Health Department (3RPHD) was approached by Region 6 Behavioral Health to apply for a grant to implement the CTC process. The grant, initially a 5-year project, has been extended to September 2023, with efforts made to secure additional funding.
Coartney DiGiorgio explains the reasons behind choosing Washington County for the CTC process: “We started our efforts in Washington County because there was not an existing coalition we could bring the CTC process to. We had to start from nothing and build a coalition to specifically carry out the CTC process, which takes much time as you try and find the right people in the community to carry out this work.”
COVID-19 had a significant impact on the progress of CTC in Washington County. DiGiorgio highlights the challenges they faced: “Unfortunately, during this 5-year grant, COVID hit, and we were not able to do any CTC work for almost 2 years, and unfortunately, we won’t get those 2 years back.” Despite these setbacks, the team managed to progress through the five phases of the CTC process, currently in phase 5.
The CTC model aims to identify risk factors that increase the likelihood of youth problem behaviors and find ways to reduce these risks. DiGiorgio describes CTC as “a prevention science model,” which includes strong bonding to family, school, community, and peers, as well as healthy beliefs and clear standards for behavior.
In November 2021, the CTC Youth Survey results from Arlington and Fort Calhoun helped identify the priority risk factors in Washington County. DiGiorgio states, “The priority risk factors the coalition decided to focus on included Alcohol & Energy Drink Use, Low Commitment to School, Perceived Risk of Drug Use (students do not see drug use as risky behavior), and Depressive Symptoms.”
In response to these risk factors, the CTC board members researched evidence-based programs that could address these issues. One such program is LifeSkills Training, a school-based curriculum implemented in Arlington and Fort Calhoun schools in Spring 2023. DiGiorgio shares the benefits of the program: “In addition to helping kids resist drug, alcohol, and tobacco use, the LifeSkills Training Middle School program also effectively supports the reduction of violence and other high-risk behaviors.”
CTC’s work in Washington County has extended beyond the schools, with a focus on community engagement and partnerships. DiGiorgio emphasizes the importance of the Social Development Strategy (SDS) in everyday interactions with youth: “These three steps lead to bonding to positive influences and clear standards for healthy behaviors.” The CTC coalition actively engages with various sectors in Washington County, including Government, Law Enforcement/Justice, Business, Education, Health, Social Services, Faith Community, and parents.
To evaluate the effectiveness of CTC programs and interventions in Washington County, the team relies on the CTC Youth Survey, which will be conducted again in September 2023. DiGiorgio acknowledges the challenges of measuring progress: “CTC is a strategy that is proven to work, but it is not a ‘quick fix’ by any means. It takes time to lay the groundwork and to figure out what works best in yourcommunity. That being said, the positive impact of CTC is evident when we compare pre- and post-intervention data.”
DiGiorgio also emphasizes the importance of understanding that progress may look different in each community: “What works in one community might not work in another. We have to constantly adapt and learn from our experiences, as well as from the feedback we receive from the community, to ensure we’re making a positive impact.”
The future of CTC in Washington County looks promising, with plans to expand and improve the programs based on community feedback and ongoing assessment of their effectiveness. DiGiorgio states, “Our goal is to build a stronger, healthier, and more resilient Washington County, where our youth and families can thrive. We are committed to working collaboratively with our partners and community members to ensure the long-term success of CTC in our region.”
As the CTC coalition moves forward, they will continue to identify gaps in services, prioritize evidence-based programs, and strengthen the community’s capacity to address the challenges faced by youth and families. DiGiorgio shares her optimism: “I am confident that, with the continued support and dedication of our community members, we can create a brighter future for the youth of Washington County.”
The Communities That Care model demonstrates the power of community engagement and collaboration. It addresses unique challenges faced by youth and families. By focusing on reducing risk factors and increasing protective factors, CTC helps create a supportive and nurturing environment for resilience and well-being in Washington County, Nebraska.