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Dillon, Lucy (2020) National Drug Prevention and Education Forum. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 72, Winter 2020 , pp. 25-26.

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On 13 June 2019, a National Drug Prevention and Education Forum was held in Dublin. The forum was the first event organised by the Drug and Alcohol Education Workers Forum (DAEWF), a network of prevention and education workers in Ireland. The network was set up to pursue joint pieces of work in the field and to promote a more integrated and best practice approach to prevention and education in Ireland.

A rapporteur’s report of the forum has been published.1 It was launched on 10 December 2019 with contributions from Dr Bobby Smyth, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist; Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin of the Labour Party; and report author Dr Laura O’Reilly from Ballymun Youth Action Project. 

Rapporteur’s report

The rapporteur’s report outlines the presentations made at the forum and captures the key components of the delegates’ discussions. The following presentations were made at the forum: 

  • ‘Drug education and prevention in Ireland: past, present and future?’ by Dr Clay Darcy, Drug Education and Prevention Development Officer, Crosscare Youth Service and the Bray Drugs Awareness Forum.
  • ‘Supporting a professional prevention workforce in Europe’ by Gregor Burkhart, Principal Scientific Analyst for Prevention, European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
  • ‘The School Health and Alcohol Harm Reduction Project (SHAHRP) and Steps Towards Alcohol Misuse Prevention Programme (STAMPP) 2004–2019’ by Michael McKay, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.
  • ‘Planet Youth in the west of Ireland’ by Orla Walshe, Project Development Worker, Western Region Drug and Alcohol Task Force. 

Key components and recommendations

Based on these presentations and the forum’s discussions, the report makes a set of recommendations for how drug prevention and education should move forward. A selection of key findings from the day and the associated recommendations are outlined below. 

Clarification of drug prevention and drug education

A recurring theme throughout the report was the perception that there is a lack of understanding among stakeholders about prevention and education strategies and how they differ from each other. The report argues that this impacts on policy, practice, monitoring, and evaluation in the field – it results in ‘incoherence regarding prevention and education objectives and outcomes and a lack of evidence showing prevention and education effectiveness’ (p. 5). To improve clarity, the report recommends that when working in this field stakeholders (local and regional drug and alcohol task forces, funders, policymakers, etc.) should adopt an agreed categorisation2 of the differing elements – prevention, education, information provision, and harm reduction (see Table 1). 

 

Table 1: Categorisation of drug information, drug education, drug prevention, and harm reduction, as proposed by Darcy (2018)

Professionalisation of prevention and education sector

The report indicates broad agreement among delegates that the prevention and education sector would benefit from being more professionalised. It was described as a workforce that exhibited diversity in its ‘skills, knowledge, background, training role definition and description’ (p. 13), and that in general there was a lack of information on what training workers possess. The report notes that ‘the application of evidenced based principles and a trained and accredited prevention workforce like the treatment and rehabilitation sector would result in an improved prevention workforce with competencies and expertise in prevention principles, theories and practice’ (p. 13). Two key recommendations for delivering a more professionalised workforce were identified: 

  • Prevention and education workers should be provided with training, qualifications, and opportunities to upskill. To meet this need, it is recommended that the prevention training syllabus, the European Universal Prevention Curriculum (EUPC), should be explored for adaptation and rollout in Ireland.
  • A professional body should be established that would agree on and have oversight of core competencies in this sector.

Evaluation

Evidencing the impact of prevention and education strategies was identified by the forum as challenging. It was argued that there is a need to challenge the perception that education and prevention do not work. The report suggests that the lack of evidence may be attributed to a shortage of appropriate mechanisms and frameworks available to prevention and education workers to evaluate their work. This is further compounded by a lack of appropriate evaluation skills on the part of the practitioner. The report recommends using the categorisation outlined in Table 1 ‘to give rise to simpler, more accurate measurement of outcomes’ (p. 14). It was also recommended that a national lead or organisation be given responsibility for the monitoring and evaluation of prevention and education initiatives. 

Prevention and education on a strategic level

There was a perception at the forum that from a strategic point of view prevention and education has become increasingly undervalued and lacking in recognition since 2010. Concern was expressed about a ‘lack of a long-term vision for the effective delivery of prevention and education from the top down’ (p. 11). Recommendations in the report therefore included that the sector makes a submission to the mid-term review of the national drugs strategy to raise the visibility of its work; and more broadly that the sector works in closer collaboration with Government Departments and State agencies. Community mobilisation was identified as a tool that could be used to create opportunities for raising the profile of prevention and education work. 

Drug and Alcohol Education Workers Forum

The report cites an ‘overwhelming consensus’ (p. 14) on the positive role of the DAEWF within the substance use field. It is recommended that its mandate be reviewed and further developed. Among the recommendations made for this were: 

  • Regular DAEWF meetings should be held and its membership expanded.
  • Existing collaborations should be built on and new ones developed with relevant agencies and departments.
  • The Manual in quality standards in substance use education, produced in 2007 by the Drug Education Workers Forum (DEWF),3 should be reviewed.
  • Such standards should be used and that good practice guidelines in harm reduction, education, information, and prevention should be developed.
  • SHAHRP delivery in Ireland should be developed, adapted, implemented, and reviewed. 

Overall, this report identifies key limitations facing the drug education and prevention sector in Ireland. However, it also indicates a move on the part of the sector to raise its profile and address these limitations. For example, it seeks clarity through an audit of what programmes are being delivered in Ireland and where; it suggests improving the quality of evaluation of interventions; and has a clear focus on the need to address the professionalisation of its labour force. 

1  O’Reilly L (2019) National Drug Prevention and Education Forum, 13th June 2019, Dublin. Rapporteur’s report. Dublin: Drug and Alcohol Education Workers Forum. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/31425/

2  Darcy C (2018) The precarious position of drug education workers in Ireland. Economic and Social Review, 49(3): 361–372.  https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/29721/

3  Butler E, Smith S, Rowley C and Keane R (eds) (2007) A manual in quality standards in substance use education. Dublin: Drug Education Workers Forum.
https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/6339/

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