Middle School Success Intervention Reduces Alcohol and Drug Use in Girls

The majority of adolescents experience the transition from elementary to middle school with relative ease. However, adolescent girls who have been raised in foster care are particularly vulnerable to negative behaviors. “Although girls in foster care commit lower levels of offenses than their counterpart boys, many girls in foster care are at increased risk of having multiple pregnancies/live births and maltreating their own children,” said Hyoun K. Kim of the Oregon Social Learning Center in Eugene, Oregon. Although there are few interventions targeted specifically at these girls, the importance of early treatment cannot be understated.

Many of the girls in foster care have experienced sexual, physical, or emotional abuse and are at increased risk for substance use or psychological problems well before they enter middle school. “Studies using diagnostic interviews have also indicated that youths in foster care tend to show high lifetime prevalence rates for disruptive disorders such as conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, ranging from 21% to 48%,” said Kim. “Given that substance use and other co-occurring problem behaviors tend to increase substantially during middle school years, preventive interventions for preadolescent girls aimed at reducing risk for a set of problems are urgently needed.”

Kim utilized the Middle School Success (MSS) intervention in a study on 100 girls in foster care and their caregivers. The intervention targeted substance use, delinquency, and other psychological and social problems that are evident in at risk youth. Kim evaluated the girls five times over 3 years and found that MSS drastically reduced substance use in the girls over the 36-month period. Kim noted that “MSS intervention was especially effective in reducing risk for tobacco and marijuana use, as reflected in significantly lower levels of tobacco and marijuana use in the past 12 months for the girls in the MSS intervention condition than for girls in the control condition.” Kim emphasized that although middle school can be a difficult transition for many, for girls in foster care, it is an ideal time to provide effective interventions. Kim added, “Although longer term effects into late adolescence and young adulthood remain to be seen, the present study indicates the potential clinical value of the MSS intervention in promoting adjustment during middle adolescence.”

Kim, H. K., Leve, L. D. (2011). Substance use and delinquency among middle school girls in foster care: A three-year follow-up of a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 79.6: 740-750.

Related articles:
Understanding Difficult Behavior – For Foster and Adoptive Parents
Working Through Resentment
Helping Children Maintain Balance and Avoid Addiction

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  • Jayden


    August 7th, 2012 at 3:55 PM

    How critical those middle school years are!
    I so vividly remember feeling all of that peer pressure and uncertainty, and I was raised in a healthy home environment! I can’t imagine how much more demanding overwhelming it must feel for a girl who does not come from a stable home life.
    I have to say that my parents were always that rock and that support that I needed during that adolescent angst! I had so many decisions to make and everyone pulling you in all different directions- it’s hard tp know which way to turn when you are feeling all of that.
    My parents taught me right from wrong from a very early age, and I still struggled, just like we all do in those years. I am so fortunate though that I always had them to fall back on and to help me nudge toward the right choices in life instead of having to make it on my own and go down the wrong path.

  • christie


    August 7th, 2012 at 7:19 PM

    we often hear kids in foster care are more vulnerable to this or that.looking to avoid those potential risks is all fine but what is the root cause of such risky behavior in foster care kids?if we can address that it will provide a far more useful solution and one that can control the issue at a more grassroots level.

  • simon j

    simon j

    August 8th, 2012 at 4:15 AM

    now let’s see if we can do this same type of intervention to prevent more of these young girls from bullying and being bullied

  • Lane


    August 8th, 2012 at 11:40 AM

    Does this intervention prove to be just as successful with the girsl who have not been through the foster care system?

    There are other young girls this age who could certainly benefit from middle school intervention, because sadly this is where so many of our bad habits that we develop over the years have their roots. Plus this is a time when many girls are going through changes and feeling ashamed of their bodies and what they look like, so anything that we can do to boost that flaggin self esteem and set them up for success will be beneficial for them for the rest of their lives. Seems like so little would actually have to be invested to make some really big changes that could prove to be so worthwhile.

  • truman


    August 8th, 2012 at 1:10 PM

    christie:more than there being a flaw with foster care… I think it is what these children go through BEFORE coming to the foster care that makes them vulnerable to drug usage and other such things…add to that the lack of presence of parents and it is not surprising to see why…!

  • Greer


    August 8th, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    This is such a positive model that more programs should begin to follow. If these are really the issues that these girls (and boys!) are facing this looks like it could really make some headway in addressing those. I guess for a long term solution this is excellent- but I would like to see if there was anything that could be done as more of a short term solution, something that you could be sure would begin helping just a little sooner. You know how they face these issues so quickly sometimes, and it would be great if there was something that we could do that would not only address the needs of mure students but in a way theat does not necessarily mean that it is a 3 year long commitment.

  • susan


    August 8th, 2012 at 11:56 PM

    children from high schools were targeted to prevent drug usage just a couple of decades ago and now the same problems are seen in middle school children.the age for drug and alcohol usage, dangerous sexual behavior is only decreasing and there are a lot of factors for this.we need to take care of those factors!

  • TysonH


    August 9th, 2012 at 4:35 AM

    programs like this can be so beneficial, but it scares me to think that we know that this can help and yet they are being cut time after time due to lack funding
    aren’t we going to wake up and realize that money for issues such as htis has to be found and that this funding must be made a priority?

  • Jordana


    August 9th, 2012 at 2:21 PM

    These girls tend to put up such a wall around themselves and their feelings- how do you find the right person to help break through that shell?

  • louisa


    August 10th, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    What would be great and even more fruitful is to start a ,ot more programs like this earlier, even at the elementary school level.
    It is never too soon to begin teaching kids the difference between right and wrong, good versus bad choices.
    If there is an opportunity anywhere to do it, I say get at those kids while they are young and impressionable and instill them with the power to make the right choice when they are forced to make a decision that might not feel right to them.

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