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The Importance of Universal Prevention

The Importance of Universal Prevention

preventionBy: Paul LeBuffe, DCRC Executive Director

Many of the programs and resources developed by DCRC are intended to be used as universal prevention programs. That is, we recommend that the DECA Program, the DESSA Strategies, and even Building Your Bounce be used with all of the preschoolers, school-age students, or adults in our care. In addition to promoting healthy social and emotional development and resilience, we expect that these programs will also reduce the incidence of behavioral concerns and other negative outcomes. If one of our important goals is to reduce the incidence of these behavioral concerns and negative outcomes, you might wonder why we don’t focus more on the high risk children and adults rather than everyone. The answer to this question involves a principle in prevention science called, “Rose’s Theorem.” This theorem states that, a large number of people exposed to a small risk may generate many more cases than a small number exposed to high risk. We all know that it is not just the high risk children who develop problem behaviors; many times it is the low risk children. As a result, if we were to focus our efforts only on high risk children we would miss the opportunity to prevent the development of problems in the low risk children. In fact, universal prevention programs often prevent the development of problems in more children than those that focus more specifically on high risk children. This is called the prevention paradox.

The preceding paragraph may have been a little hard to follow. Fortunately, Dr. David Hawkins, a leading researcher in the prevention science field, has made a great four-minute video that explains this important concept really well.  Click here to view the video!  When you watch this video, just think of preschoolers instead of adolescents (if you are a DECA Program user) and behavioral concerns instead of binge drinking.

The important take-home message is that by focusing on promoting the social and emotional well-being of all children, students, and adults, we are actually preventing more behavioral problems than if we focused solely on high-risk kids. So the next time someone asks you why you emphasize universal prevention programs, tell them about Rose’s Theorem!

[Thanks to Dr. Valerie Shapiro, Research Analyst at DCRC, Assistant Professor at the University of California-Berkeley, and a former student of Dr. Hawkins, for bringing this video to our attention.]

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