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How the “Core Competencies” Help to Professionalize the Prevention Workforce

April 2022 our Prevention Nugget, “Building Prevention Systems: Prevention Professionals,” described the importance of having a well-trained prevention workforce as part of a comprehensive prevention service delivery system.  In that Nugget we emphasized how a profession is defined by a systematic body of knowledge, skills, and competencies needed by professionals that have their basis in theory and research (e.g., Knox & Spivak, 2005).  This Nugget summarizes the prevention core competencies identified by The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to help strengthen the prevention profession.

The process of developing the core competencies related to the Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF) – Assessment, Capacity, Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation. SAMHSA convened technical experts representing national and state mental health and substance use prevention organizations to develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA’s) needed to effectively work in the field of prevention.  These ‘Core Competencies’ are summarized in the table at the end of this narrative.  The numbers within each box represent the number of KSA competencies within that area, that any prevention professional should know and master as they build their professional expertise.  These KSA’s total 302 for all areas.  For more details, see


In addition, the International Certification and Reciprocity Coalition, that licenses substance use prevention and treatment professionals has used expert input to develop its list of domains and tasks for the workforce (see below). These generally track to the core competencies.  (


Currently, the prevention workforce in the United States consists of three major groups: those who are just entering the workforce with certification or university degrees in prevention; those who have been in the field for 5 or more years who have university degrees but not specific to prevention per se; and those whose work includes prevention practices but are not considered prevention practitioners such as teachers, law enforcement officers, nurses, psychologists, social workers.  It is becoming more widely recognized that prevention professionals (research and practice) should have the same knowledge base and understand the complexity of prevention practice so as to develop the requisite skills necessary to conduct evidence-based prevention interventions and policies with fidelity and quality delivery.


As one can see, the field of prevention practice demands a broad knowledge and skill set that require extensive and in-depth training.  At this time several universities in the United States offer certificates as well as graduate degrees in prevention science with emphases on practice as well as research.  The certificate programs generally require 12 to 15 credit hours (or the equivalent of 180 to 225 class hours, e.g., Arizona State University, Colorado State University).


Understanding SAMHSA’s SPF and summary core competencies is a good introduction to the nature and breadth of prevention work, but more in-depth training, education, and skills development, can support prevention professionals for undertaking the more challenging and effective prevention programming that can help their communities with  quality services.  


APSI provides a training opportunity through its Foundations of Prevention Science and Practice for prevention coordinators, program managers/supervisors, frontline implementers and students/trainees that are involved in planning for and implementing community prevention interventions and/or policies. Built on an evidence-based community systems framework, the content is organized into the following eight courses that encompass the prevention knowledge, skills and competencies needed for today’s prevention professionals.


Course 1: Building the Framework for Evidence Based Prevention Science and Practice

This course provides an overview of the science that underlies evidence-based prevention interventions and strategies, and the application of these effective approaches in prevention practice (30 hours).


Course 2: Building Evidence-based Prevention for Families

This course provides an overview of the family as the primary socialization agent of children, the science behind family-based prevention interventions, and the application of such evidence-based approaches to help prevent the onset of substance use in children. (30 hours)


Course 3: Building Evidence-based Prevention in Schools

This course provides an overview of the role of the school in society, the science behind school-based prevention interventions, and the application of such evidence-based approaches in school settings around the world. Approaches include school and classroom climate, school policies, and substance use prevention curricula. (30 hours)


Course 4: Building Evidence-based Prevention in Workplaces

This course provides an overview of the role of work and the workplace in society, how stressors and other work-related influences affect people's risk of substance use, the science behind workplace prevention interventions, and the application of such evidence-based approaches in work settings around the world. Approaches include the workplace climate, substance use policies, and specific interventions. (30 hours)


Course 5: Building Evidence-based Prevention with Environmental Policies and Strategies

This course provides an overview of the science underlying evidence-based substance use prevention environmental interventions, involving policy and community-wide strategies. (30 hours)


Course 6: Building Evidence-based Prevention through the Media

This course provides an overview of the science underlying the use of media for substance use prevention interventions. (30 hours)


Course 7: Building Evidence-based Prevention Implementation Systems in the Community  

This course provides an overview of the science underlying the systems approach to support and sustain evidence-based prevention interventions and guidance on developing such approaches, as well as exemplars of evidence-based substance use prevention systems. (30 hours)


Course 8: Building a Monitoring and Evaluation System for Evidence-Based Prevention Interventions and Policies

This course provides an overview of primary evaluation methods used to measure the outcomes of evidence-based prevention interventions and gives guidance in applying these interventions to "real-world" prevention settings. (30 hours)

Stay in touch for upcoming training opportunities!


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