July 2008

Grant Results


Researchers from the University of Minnesota Medical School conducted a follow-up study of elementary school children who participated in the Early Risers "Skills for Success" drug-use prevention program.

Key Findings

  • Compared with other sixth-grade children, those who completed the program were significantly less likely to engage in "oppositional and defiant behavior," including arguing with adults, defying them or refusing to comply with their requests.
  • Drug use, however, was not significantly different in the two groups, but was lower than national averages.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided $224,428 to support this study between September 2001 and August 2004.

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Although many programs try to help children deal with common problems, such as drug use, academic challenges and behavioral issues, researchers and practitioners are challenged to understand how these programs work and which ones are successful. One issue is the absence of evaluations that follow participants as they age to assess a program's long-term effects.

One promising program is the Early Risers "Skills for Success" program, which was developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School, and has been identified by the federal Center for Substance Abuse Prevention as a model program. This drug abuse prevention program works with elementary school children and their families to develop healthy life skills over a five-year period. Key components include:

  • Family skills training sessions for both the children and their parents.
  • Monitoring of school attendance, academic performance and social adjustment, as well as tutoring, emotional support and consultation with teachers.
  • Home visits to promote parenting competence, identify family needs and set family goals and strategies to achieve them.
  • Summer sessions: In the first three years of the program, children attend a six-week, four-day-a-week summer school session. In the last two years of the program (considered the "booster phase"), the children participate in a one-week nature camp experience.

Initial studies of the Early Risers program have shown that children did better in school, had fewer behavior problems and were more socially adjusted than similar children not in the program. These studies were completed, however, while the children were still enrolled in the program. It was not known how effective the program is at helping children after they complete the program and as they enter adolescence.

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RWJF has a track record of significant support for substance abuse education and prevention efforts. Another of its efforts to develop an evidence-based approach to substance abuse prevention is its funding of a five-year multi-site prospective study of an enhanced version of the D.A.R.E. middle and high school curriculum aimed at substance abuse prevention. Evaluators at the University of Akron are conducting the evaluation, which began in 1999 (ID#s 037809, 039223, 040371, and 041658).

The Addiction Prevention and Treatment Team is now focused on increasing the number of treatment settings employing approaches that have been proven to work.

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Researchers conducted a follow-up study of elementary school children one year after they completed the Early Risers "Skills for Success" drug use prevention program. The researchers built on a previous study of the program, which began with 245 children from 20 elementary schools in semi-rural Minnesota. All of the children were screened for aggressive or disruptive behavior by teachers in kindergarten and were judged at risk for future drug use. About half of the children participated in the program, while the other half served as a comparison group.

At the time of the follow-up, the children were in the spring semester of the 6th grade. Interviewers went to each home and questioned the children and their parents about the child's drug use, mental health, behavior, learning and social skills. The children's teachers completed questionnaires probing the same issues. In all, the researchers collected information about 73 children who completed the program and 78 children who did not.

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The researchers reported the following key findings to RWJF:

  • Compared with other children, those who completed the program were significantly less likely to engage in "oppositional and defiant" behavior, including arguing with adults, defying them or refusing to comply with their requests. Both groups, however, were similarly likely to engage in behavior related to "conduct disorder," such as being aggressive to people or animals, destroying property or breaking into a car. According to the researchers, previous research has shown that children who persist into adolescence with oppositional/defiant behavior or conduct problems are at greater risk for developing serious drug use and abuse.
  • Both groups of children had similar rates of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use. Substance use was, as expected, low among these children. For example, 2 percent of children who participated in the program had used alcohol in the previous year, compared with 1 percent of other children. Rates of substance use in both groups were generally lower than national averages for sixth graders.


The researchers published a paper on the Early Risers "Skills for Success" project in the journal Substance Use and Misuse. They also have made presentations on their work at national conferences, including the annual meeting of the Society for Prevention Research.

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With a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the project team conducted further analysis on the data collected over six years and published findings in a February 2007 article in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. Among the results:

  • After one year of follow-up, children assigned to the Early Risers program showed lower rates of oppositional defiance disorder than did children assigned to the control group.
  • Both greater social skills and more effective parental discipline were associated with lower rates of oppositional defiance disorder.
  • Higher academic achievement was not associated with lower rates of oppositional defiance disorder.

In the report, researchers suggested that the program areas designed to increase social skills and implement more effective parental discipline techniques may have been responsible for the lower rate of oppositional defiance disorder for children in the program group compared to the control group.

As of June 2008, the researchers continued to follow the participating children through the 12th grade in order to assess the program's long-term impact. The project team expected research to be complete in 2009.

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Examining the Effectiveness of a High-Intensity Drug Use Prevention Program for High-Risk Youth


University of Minnesota Medical School (Minneapolis,  MN)

  • Amount: $ 224,428
    Dates: September 2001 to August 2004
    ID#:  038725


Gerald J. August, Ph.D.
(612) 273-9727

Web Site


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(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

Book Chapters

Bloomquist ML, August GJ, Lee SS, Berquist BB and Mathy R. "Targeted Prevention Of Antisocial Behavior in Children: The Early Risers 'Skills for Success' Program." In Handbook Of Mental Health Services For Children, Adolescents, and Families, Steele RG and Roberts MC (eds). New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Press, 2005.


August GJ, Winters KC, Realmuto GM, Tarter R, Perry C and Hektner JM. "Moving Evidence-Based Drug Abuse Prevention Programs From Basic Science To Practice: 'Building The Efficacy-Effectiveness Interface.'" Substance Use and Misuse, 39(10–12): 2017–2053, 2004. Abstract available online.

Bernat D, August G, Hektner J and Bloomquist M. "The Early Risers Preventive Intervention: Testing for Six-year Outcomes and Mediational Processes." Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 35(4): 2007. Available online .

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Report prepared by: Elizabeth Heid Thompson
Reviewed by: Richard Camer
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: M. Katherine Kraft