Vision: (Name of coalition) actively provides awareness, prevention and possible solutions for parents and children so they make healthy choices.

They have a vision and a mission statement but have not yet decided on an official name. For now, a group of community leaders from several sectors are calling themselves a coalition to promote positive decision making by youth.

It's a five-step process, according to Brenda Salvati, prevention program director for Preferred Family Healthcare, a Wichita-based non-profit organization that provides substance abuse treatment, prevention, and mental health services. She spoke at a meeting last week at Pratt Regional Medical Center.

The first phase was done a year ago with a Community Health Needs Assessment by PRMC and Pratt County Health Department.

The group is currently in a community mobilization phase.

That will be followed by strategic planning, based on evidence-based interventions that have been shown to "bring the data down, to do what you want to do," Salvati said, adding that "there is a long list of tried and true strategies."

The last steps are implementation and evaluation.

At the meeting, the group considered data collected by Kansas Communities That Care, a self-reporting survey administered to sixth, eighth, tenth and twelfth graders about their participation in various behaviors and perceptions about their families and communities.

Pratt High students participate; Skyline School has not for several years, but Superintendent Mike Sanders has indicated they might again.

To be valid, at least half of students in an age group must participate. Pratt County's overall rate is 52.8 percent; however, the percentage of sixth graders falls below the threshold. There are "red flags" built into the questions that would eliminate surveys from students who appear to be over-reporting their participation, Salvati said.

She believes the data is accurate; more importantly, the "funders" believe in it. Since 1995, the survey data has enabled $60 million in preventive funding in Kansas, and the figures are increasing annually.

Suzan Patton, superintendent for USD 382, cautioned that actual numbers should be considered, not just percentages.

"How many kids are we really talking about?" she questioned.

For example, the number of students reporting use of marijuana would be about 30 — a relatively small group, but 30 kids you don't want to lose.

Salvati noted that use of alcohol by county youth shows a declining trend, and is lower than statewide averages, but questioned, "is that good enough, or do you want to see it go on down?"

She also noted that youths' perceptions are important: if they believe they can get alcohol and drugs very easily, they will find a way. About 20 percent of survey-takers, both locally and state-wide, think that is the case.

About 16 percent think there is no risk of harming themselves if they take one or two drinks of alcohol nearly every day, a figure that appears to be increasing.

"We're so tired of catching people who fall off the cliff. Let's put a fence in front of the cliff," Salvati said, as she guided the group in the development of a vision statement to define what the ideal outcome would be.

Whatever develops during the implementation phase should involve the community, and not depend entirely on grants. Salvati explained that in Finney County, $1 or $2 from every court cost was given to a coalition. In some communities, a business or church has adopted certain strategies.

There are a lot of good programs available, she said. Some are expensive, others very inexpensive and easily implemented. Patton expressed interest in material about talking to children about substance abuse that other schools provide to parents during orientation for their students.

Implementation could be education, activities, policy changes and working for change within the larger community.

Kim Stivers, community service coordinator at PRMC, has assumed the responsibility of notifying people of meetings.