Icelandic Youth

4. What Makes The Programme Work?

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There are a number of key factors which could have played a key role in the model being successful. Its two main aims were to reduce risk factors and increase protective factors, while providing positive, meaningful activities for young people to engage in.

The importance of the family and parental engagement

The Icelandic model creates a level of personal and social responsibility for children. Parents sign the pledge, are given representation at schools, and are encouraged to help police the curfew. These initiatives mobilise parents both collectively and individually.

As the role of the family is emphasised through the range of interventions and initiatives, young people are in turn given more support and family time. Parents are encouraged to spend more time with their children, find out who their friends are, and take responsibility for their whereabouts. This increase in support and connection seems to be key in reducing problematic and risky behaviour.

Mobilise an effective and resourceful community

The school becomes a key body in the process by bringing together children, parents and researchers from the programme, creating a collective sense of responsibility and ownership.

The programme places responsibility with the local community and relies upon academics to make sure it is working. This model empowers local communities to take responsibility for young people and facilitates local decision-making.

Provides meaningful activities for young people

The programme creates a buy-in from all the key players and creates positive, meaningful and healthy activities for young people to take part in. Sports facilities are created, leagues organised and young people are encouraged to take up new hobbies. With such a high level of resources at the disposal of the local community, young people feel empowered and engaged. The theories outlined by Milkman are put to the test as young people are given the opportunity to engage in ‘natural highs’ rather than seek a change in consciousness via drugs.

The team researching the programme cautioned against attributing all of the changes to the Youth in Iceland project. The first factor in this is that the reduction could have been due to a wider trend which took place in other European countries1. Secondly, there could have been changes to educational policies or social factors such as youth employment or divorce rates which could have also played a key role. Even with these caveats, the correlation between drug and alcohol use among young people and the programme’s implementation does still seem very strong. It is therefore worth considering how the UK could learn lessons from this model.

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