Like adults, young people can struggle with mental health issues, substance abuse, and traumatic experiences that can negatively impact their development and future opportunities. Early intervention is a critical strategy for addressing the challenges facing at-risk youth so they can lead happy, healthy lives.
Functional Family Therapy (FFT) is an evidence-based therapeutic intervention that can help families navigate these challenges and promote positive outcomes for youth.
In this blog, we will discuss the importance of early intervention, common risks that youth face, the benefits of early intervention, strategies for early intervention, and the role of mental health professionals in providing effective family-focused therapy.
Why Early Intervention Matters
Early intervention is essential because it can help prevent adverse outcomes for youth before they become entrenched. Research has shown that many young people who struggle with mental health issues, substance abuse, and traumatic experiences are at risk of dropping out of school, engaging in criminal behavior, being socially isolated, and more.
Early intervention can help address challenges and risk factors before they become more severe and difficult to manage. Many mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, can worsen over time if left untreated.
Positive youth development, as defined by the Interagency Working Group for Youth Programs, is a practical, pro-social approach to help young people "in a manner that is productive and constructive; recognizes, utilizes and enhances youths' strengths; and promotes positive outcomes for young people by providing opportunities, fostering positive relationships, and furnishing the support needed to build on strengths."
Early intervention, focusing on positive development and pro-social relationship building, can help prevent the challenges adolescents and other young people face from becoming chronic and having a more significant impact on their life.
Common Risks and Challenges Young People Face
Many young people face significant risks that can impact their development and future opportunities.
Adolescents face enormous challenges as their hormones fluctuate. They long for independence and experience an overwhelming amount of change. Unfortunately, all the ups and downs in this development phase can lead to substance misuse, mental health challenges, and an increased risk of experiencing trauma.
Substance use, for example, can lead to addiction, health problems, and other adverse outcomes. Approximately 40% of adolescents will have used an illicit drug by the time they reach 12th grade. Additionally, mental health conditions like anxiety and depression can impact a young person's ability to function at school or work, lead to social isolation, and more.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES)
Traumatic experiences, such as abuse or neglect, can have long-term impacts on a young person's mental health and development. Adverse Childhood Experiences, commonly simplified to "ACEs," are traumatic or stressful experiences that a child may have experienced before age 18. These experiences can profoundly impact a child's development and increase their risk for adverse outcomes later in life.
Types of ACEs include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; neglect; household dysfunction such as substance abuse, mental illness, divorce, or incarceration of a family member; and exposure to violence or poverty.
Research has shown that the more ACEs a child experiences, the higher their risk for adverse outcomes such as mental health problems, substance abuse, chronic disease, and premature death. ACEs can also have a cumulative effect, meaning that the impact of multiple ACEs can be more severe than that of a single ACE.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "at least 5 of the top 10 leading causes of death are associated with ACEs."
Recognizing and addressing these experiences in at-risk youth is critical for promoting positive, long-term outcomes. Early intervention and support can help mitigate some of the negative effects. Research shows that preventing these adverse childhood experiences at an early age could reduce depression rates in adults by 44%.
Three Key Benefits of Early Intervention
Early intervention can have significant benefits for young people and their families.
#1 – Prevent Negative Outcomes
For example, early intervention can help prevent adverse outcomes, such as dropping out of school or engaging in criminal behavior. Early intervention can also help address issues before they become more severe and difficult to treat.
The RAND Corporation states, "Early intervention programs yield benefits in academic achievement, behavior, educational progression and attainment, delinquency and crime, labor market success, and more."
#2 – Strengthen the Family System
Early intervention can also help families develop stronger relationships and communication skills. Functional Family Therapy, for example, is an intervention that can help families learn how to resolve conflicts, communicate effectively, and support each other through challenging times. In addition, by improving their relationship, families can help promote positive outcomes for their younger family members.
#3 – Reduce High-Cost Challenges
Research indicates that early intervention is also cost-effective. Children or adolescents who demonstrate negative behaviors early on in life often experience high personal, social, and financial costs later in life.
These costs are wide-ranging and could include costs associated with risky or criminal behavior, such as the cost of criminal justice investigations, arrests, adjudications, and incarceration. A comprehensive study estimated that "high-risk youth may generate social costs approaching $2 million.” This value is averaged across three categories: high-school dropouts, career criminals, and heavy drug users.
In contrast, key findings indicate that early intervention programs can generate a return to society ranging from $1.80 to $17.07 for every dollar spent implementing a program and delivering services.
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See What Early Intervention Can Do for Families!
FFT LLC brings Functional Family Therapy to over 40,000 families a year globally at risk of involvement in the justice and child welfare systems and gangs. To maintain positive outcomes, FFT LLC provides clinical oversight and ongoing research to ensure that all FFT providers adhere to evidence-based practice standards.
Contact us for more information about our evidence-based youth and family counseling services.