• Program aims to curb teen drinking
    By ANDREW McKEEVER Herald Staff | March 10,2006
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    MANCHESTER Faced with evidence that drug and alcohol use among the area's adolescents is a serious problem, a local civic organization is hoping a "safe homes" program might be part of the answer.

    The Northshire Community Coalition, a group of parents and teens interested in promoting alternatives to recreational substance abuse, is preparing to launch a parent network to ensure teenage parties and social events are drug-and-alcohol free.

    "The idea of it is to create a group of supportive parents that agree not to serve alcohol to teens in their homes," said Jennifer Flannery, the coalition's co-chairwoman. "It creates that model instead of the other model where parents just say 'whatever.'"

    The Safe Homes Program is a national effort that began more than 10 years ago in Nebraska. It encourages parents to call ahead to homes where their children are going to parties to check on who's in charge. It creates ground rules for what is acceptable behavior and what isn't, she said.

    Convincing teens their parents are serious about preventing drug and alcohol use will not be easy, said Dr. Judith Fellows, a substance abuse consultant for the state Department of Health and a coalition member.

    "We have a whole generation of kids that haven't had limits or consequences," she said. "The context we're working with is a wave of parents who haven't had rules for their kids."

    The best chance of success lies by establishing networks of parents who already know each other through other activities or connections, such as school sports or other organizations, she said.

    With many parents leading busy lives, having a previous connection is critical to overcoming any awkwardness between parents who are calling to check on their children's whereabouts, she said.

    "It takes time to build that comfort factor," she said. "You have to make calling other parents an easy thing."

    The idea for the Safe Homes program comes at a time when concerns about drug and alcohol use are on parents' minds.

    The coalition distributed a survey last year that shows that community members feel there is a serious issue of substance abuse by teenagers locally. But there also is a feeling that teen alcohol use is inevitable, said Phyllis Tarbell, a coalition vice-chairwomen.

    Among the survey results were the following:

    ? 85 percent of adults feel there is a serious to very serious issue of alcohol use facing youth in the Northshire.

  • 47 percent of adults believe it is acceptable for youth under the age of 21 to drink alcohol if they are not driving.

  • 58 percent of adults with children assume their child will drink alcohol before the age of 18.

    But better parental communication would help create an expectation that children will be checked up on, and certain behavior isn't acceptable, she said.

    Along with Safe Homes, the Northshire coalition is hoping a forum this week will give a lift toward promoting some of the enhanced communication.

    The forum is designed to be an intergenerational event bringing together representatives of youth, parents and grandparents to promote ways of strengthening the community, said Jill Loewer, the coalition's program coordinator.

    The daylong forum, held Monday, was directed by a consultant from the Search Institute, a nonprofit Minnesota-based organization that will look at ways of building upon assets already present in the community, she said.

    "The idea is to bring different (people) together and go back out with a concrete action plan," she said.

    Contact Andrew McKeever at andrew.mckeever@rutlandherald.com
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