FACS professors receive $6 million to develop prevention programs for adolescents

November 26, 2000

ATHENS, Ga. -- Two grants, totaling more than $6 million, will allow child and family development professors to draw on years of research findings in developing prevention programs for young adolescents.

Dr. Gene Brody and Dr. Velma McBride Murry, both of whom are faculty members in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia, have spent the past several years studying how rural African-American children and their families relate on a variety of issues, including identifying why some children are quite successful academically, emotionally and socially, despite growing up in challenging circumstances such as living in poverty and high-crime areas. Including these most recent grants, Brody and Murry have grant projects totaling more than $16 million.

In his most recent grant, Brody -- who also serves as director of the Family Research Center at UGA -- received $3.1 million from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to develop a multicomponent prevention program to decrease alcohol and other substance use by African-American children living in rural Georgia.

"This is an opportunity for us to see whether the family processes we've identified as being linked to competence in kids can be translated into prevention programs to help them avoid using drugs and alcohol," he said.

Murry, who also works with the Family Research Center, received $3.2 million from the National Institutes of Mental Health, to develop a program designed to decrease young African-Americans' risk for HIV-AIDS.

"HIV-AIDS is an epidemic in the black community," Murry said. "Nationally, 59 percent of all youth under the age of 20 who have AIDS are African-Americans. Likewise, 56 percent of all women with AIDS are African-American."

Both research projects will last for five years and each will include 400 participants. "These two grants are very good examples of how research at the University of Georgia can have a direct and positive effect on some of the most troubling problems our society faces," UGA President Michael Adams said. "I am encouraged by the direction of this research and hopeful that it will result in programs to help young people make better decisions."

In his project, Brody will identify 400 rural African-American 11 and 12 year olds. The children and their parents will participate in a prevention trial that includes a series of sessions focusing on strengthening family and cognitive processes that will foster competencies in the youth and, in turn, deter substance abuse. During the year following the sessions, the families will participate in two "booster" sessions.

"In Georgia, the most common age for alcohol and other substance use to begin is under 14," Brody said. "By starting this program when the children are 11 or 12 years old, we hope we're going to change their thinking about using these substances.

"Every component is based on prior research," he continued. "For example, we're drawing on findings from our earlier research about what these kids think about other kids who use drugs and alcohol -- their beliefs about how frequently kids drink, how much they drink and what these kids look like, are they the popular kids, for example. Hopefully, at the end of this project we'll have a set of prevention materials that we can refine and disseminate to other organizations interested in prevention programs."

Murry is particularly focusing on parenting practices that help children feel good about themselves.

"There seems to be a link between children's perceptions of themselves as African-Americans and risky behavior," Murry said. "Those families that teach their children to be proud of themselves and their ethnic identity are able to buffer their children from the sorts of behavior that put children at risk for HIV-AIDS."

In Murry's project, those in the control group will still have access to the written and video materials that will be used but will not participate in the group discussions.

"Given how serious the issue of HIV-AIDS is, it wouldn't be ethical to have a completely controlled group," Murry said. "However, we think there will be significant differences in how those participating in the structured prevention program benefit from the information."

Murry said those participating in her project will be African-American children who are 11 or 12 years old and have at least one older sibling. She also will involve the target child's best friend in this study. In so doing, she may be able to determine the differential effect of siblings versus peers on adolescent behavior.

"There's national data that shows African-American boys begin engaging in sex between the ages of 12 and 14; for girls, it's between the ages of 14 and 15," Murry said. "We hope that by educating these children at a time when they're also still listening to their parents, that they'll be more inclined to delay sexual activity."

In addition to the two researchers, between 40 and 60 doctoral, master's and undergraduate students will work on the two projects.
WRITER: Denise H. Horton, 706/542-8014, dhorton@arches.uga.edu
CONTACTS: Gene Brody, 706/542-3167, gbrody@fcs.uga.edu, Velma McBride Murry, 706/542-4792, vmurry@arches.uga.edu

University of Georgia

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