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What are the key knowledge, skills, and competencies of prevention professionals?


Those of us working in prevention span many fields and bring our knowledge, skills and competencies to bear as we address substance use and other problem behaviors. As teachers, counselors, family practitioners, youth leaders, social workers, psychologists and others, we need to have shared prevention knowledge, competencies and skills to bring evidence-based prevention programming to populations in the community.


Knowledge starts with an understanding of more than 30 years of the results of prevention science that have identified effective interventions and policies that can be applied successfully to problem behaviors. The science base not only informs prevention professionals about the implementation of effective prevention programming, but also informs about potential ineffective and sometimes “iatrogenic” interventions—strategies that can backfire with negative outcomes. It also avoids wasting financial and other resources on ineffective strategies.


Professional skills involve the essential tasks in delivering effective strategies depicted here in the Implementation Cycle. The European Standards of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA in 2011), along with the work of the United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration have defined many of the tasks that are carried out by prevention professionals. These range from assessing the problem in a population to defining an intervention approach, as in the following:

  • Assessing the nature and extent of Psychoactive Substance Use

  • Identifying the populations most at-risk

  • Convening stakeholders to address the problem

  • Persuading stakeholders of the value of Evidence-Based prevention interventions and policies

  • Developing logic models to support the selection and evaluation of prevention intervention— Assessing the availability of community resources

  • Selecting prevention programming and implementation

  • Delivering evidence-based prevention interventions with fidelity

  • Monitoring and evaluating prevention interventions

  • Applying professional ethics in all aspects of the prevention work

In addition, the European Centre describes performance standards for working prevention professionals and describes four areas of competencies related to intervention delivery—General competencies, Basic intervention competencies, Specific intervention competencies and Meta-competencies—as described below.

  • General competencies relate to people and to carrying out any prevention intervention or policy--e.g., communication skills, program management, social and person skills.

  • Basic intervention competencies include those needed to deliver a prevention intervention--e.g., knowledge of effective substance use prevention approaches and components, interactive instructional strategies, understanding developmental issues

  • Specific intervention competencies include the knowledge and skills specific to a selected intervention—e.g., effective parenting strategies, teaching decision making skills

  • Meta-competencies that cut across the above areas and are able to adapt prevention interventions effectively to meet the specific needs of the target audience--e.g., cultural sensitivity—but also include community organization, planning and resource development, and monitoring and evaluation.

In the ideal world, only professionals trained in evidence-based prevention should be allowed to deliver prevention programming and to have day-to-day contact with children and adolescents since they know how to deliver the safest and most effective interventions to prevent problem behaviors like substance use. As we build our competencies in this science-based practice field, we are helping to expand community capacity for effecting real change.


APSI through the APSI Education Center is committed to deliver key knowledge on prevention science and evidence-based prevention interventions and building the necessary skills so prevention professionals can develop, select and implement the most adequate, evidence-based prevention interventions with efficacy. In the words of APSI President, Dr. Zili Sloboda: "Prevention is an ever-evolving field. Keeping current with effective prevention strategies can be a challenge. Our Education Center is designed to open the door to learning for new and continuing prevention professionals who are working to bring evidence-based prevention to their community."

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