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Nine Principles of Effective Prevention Programs

In the article What works in prevention: Principles of Effective Prevention Programs, the authors used a review-of-reviews approach across four areas (substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, school failure, and juvenile delinquency and violence) to identify characteristics consistently associated with effective prevention programs.

  1. Comprehensive: Prevention strategies should include multiple types of activities, affect multiple settings, and go beyond awareness-raising. Note: prevention is a component of a comprehensive response to violence against women . Effective prevention efforts are those that are comprehensive. There are several models of comprehensive prevention efforts, such as the Socio-ecological Model and the Spectrum of Prevention.
  2. Varied Teaching Methods: Prevention strategies should include interactive, skills-based components.
  3. Sufficient Dosage: Participants in your prevention programing need to be exposed to enough of the activities for them to have an effect. Your prevention programming needs to happen over a long enough period of time so that the programming impacts participants’ knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and skill acquisition.
  4. Theory Driven: Strategies should have a scientific justification or logical rationale.
  5. Positive Relationships: Programs should foster strong and positive relationships between children/youth and adults. According to Erin Casey, “Factors likely to contribute to engagement and interaction include personal relevance of information or presenters, and opportunities to critically evaluate and discuss the content of the presentation (e.g. Heppner, Neville, Smith, Kivlighan, & Gershuny, 1999)”.
  6. Appropriately Timed: Program activities should happen at a time (developmentally) that can have maximal impact in a participant’s life.
  7. Socioculturally Relevant: Programs should be tailored to fit within cultural beliefs and practices of specific groups as well as local community norms. According to Erin Casey, “The use of information and statistics relevant to the local community in which educational programming is implemented is more associated with positive attitude change among participants than more generalized sexual assault content (Schewe, 2002).”
  8. Well-trained Staff: Programs need to be implemented by staff members who are sensitive, competent, and have received sufficient training, support, and supervision.
  9. Outcome Evaluation: A systematic outcome evaluation is necessary to determine whether a program or strategy worked.

Effective prevention programs are also integrated throughout the framework of an organization. To learn more, visit the wiki page on integration of primary prevention.

DELTA Application

Local communities receiving DELTA funds are attempting to apply these elements to develop primary prevention programs in their evaluation process. For example, Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence is using these principles in the evaluation of evidence based strategies.


Nation, M., Crusto, C., Wandersman, A., Kumpfer, K. L., Seybolt, D., Morrissey-Kane, E., & Davino, K. (2003). What works in prevention: Principles of Effective Prevention Programs. American Psychologist, 58, 449-456.