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Strengthening the Bonds of Chicano Youth and Families

Ages 9-16

Rating: Level 3


Strengthening the Bonds of Chicano Youth (El Proyecto de Nuestra Juventud) is a comprehensive, multilevel, community-based, and culturally appropriate program designed to meet the prevention needs of rural Chicano youth in Central Arizona who demonstrate high-risk characteristics of substance abuse. The program is rooted in a family-oriented approach that is based on Mexican-American culture, values, and principles. The project was conceived and implemented by the Pinal Hispanic Council, a minority nonprofit organization based in Eloy, Ariz.

The target population served by the project included 450 high-risk youth (323 female, 127 male) in three age groups (9–11 years old, 12–14 years old, and 15–16 years old), who were residents of low-income housing and students at the elementary, junior, and senior high schools. Availability of alcohol and drugs, attitudes favorable to drug use, negative peer influences, and poor family management were the risk factors used for referral to the project interventions. During the project, 330 families and 60 service providers were reached.

Based on the theoretical framework of Hawkins and Catalano, the interventions addressed four life domains: family, individual/peer, school, and neighborhood/community. The project uses a combination of culturally appropriate interventions for youth and families. Family interventions include camps (campamentos) and informal talks (platicas). Youth interventions include peer support groups and workshops. Community interventions include a homework center, a mural project, and a theatre project.

The project also included the following interventions:

  • Youth/peer support groups served as social and life skills training for fourth to ninth graders to address topics such as conflict resolution, life skills, youth town hall, sexuality, gangs, mental health, teenage pregnancy, and alcohol, tobacco, and other drug (ATOD) prevention.
  • Cultural assessment applied a cultural rating scale to measure each youth’s cultural awareness and ethnic loyalty to both Mexican and American culture.
  • Youth enterprise concentrated on planning and developing a business project as a legitimate means of earning an income.
  • Barrio Focus recruited community members to work as servidores or promotores to deliver messages and information to the community through local channels and means.
  • Parent/sibling contracts were added during the 2nd year of the program to increase youth participation and family commitment.


The project used a quasi-experimental design using a set of three cohorts: two experimental groups in Eloy and Picacho and a control group in Chandler (all in Arizona). Each of the experimental groups was administered a pretest before intervention and a posttest afterward. The control group received no interventions, completing only the pretest and the follow-up posttest to determine any significant differences from the two experimental cohorts. The sample population consisted of Chicano youths in the fourth through eighth grades. The experimental sample was randomly selected from a population poll conducted by several community agencies. The control group was attained without a randomization procedure. The youth treatment sample totaled 162 (treatment n=90 and control n=72). The treatment sample consisted of 51 percent girls, with a mean age of 12½. The control sample consisted of 57 percent girls, with a mean age of 13½. These youths were tracked to monitor changes before and after the prevention intervention. Levels of ATOD use were measured, along with the Index of Family Relations, the Index of Peer Relations, the Rosenberg Self-Esteem, and the Pearlin and Schooler Mastery Scale. An acculturation scale was also administered to youth participants.

The parent sample totaled 49 (all treatment). The age range of the parents was 27 to 65, with an average age of 38.7. The group was predominately Hispanic (80 percent), with a mean education level of ninth grade. Fifty-three percent of the families were married, 14 percent divorced, 16 percent separated, 14 percent single, and 2 percent widowed. The parents were administered a pretest and posttest of the Family Profile Questionnaire to measure behavioral change in the family domain, family functioning (cohesion, adaptability, and family type), and levels of drug use. Acculturation Rating Scale for Mexican Americans (known as ARSAMA) was also administered to measure the level of acculturation of family members.


The evaluation reported a high rating on the family scale, indicating that the project succeeded in improving family communication and bonding. Youths and families reported increased communication, trust, and a sense of belonging and bonding. Another significant finding was an increase in awareness of substance abuse issues and a decrease in substance abuse. Findings indicate that youth and families respond positively to opportunities to increase substance abuse knowledge and are able to integrate knowledge into reduction strategies. Increased family communication and bonding had a significant positive impact in reducing potential substance abuse by the children. Qualitative data suggests that participation in family camps succeeded in bringing families and youths together for participation in family bonding exercises, substance abuse prevention workshops, and hands-on activities. Platicas were instrumental in achieving mutual understanding and trust between participants and staff.

The major significant findings include the following:

  • A significant difference was found comparing pretest and posttest scores for the experimental group on family relations, but not for the control group.
  • The level of drug use decreased for the experimental group, with significant differences for alcohol and other drugs. No significant difference was shown for the control group for these drug categories. A significant difference was also found in the experimental group regarding alcohol use by family members. Family member drinking was reported to decrease among the experimental group and to increase among the control group.
  • There was a substantial increase in parental drug knowledge in several areas.

Risk Factors


  • Favorable attitudes toward drug use/Early onset of AOD use/Alcohol and/or drug use


  • Family history of the problem behavior/Parent criminality
  • Family management problems/Poor parental supervision and/or monitoring
  • Poor family attachment/Bonding


  • Availability of alcohol and other drugs


  • Peer alcohol, tobacco, and/or other drug use

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards
  • Self-efficacy


  • Effective parenting
  • Good relationships with parents / Bonding or attachment to family
  • Having a stable family
  • High expectations
  • Opportunities for prosocial family involvement
  • Rewards for prosocial family involvement


  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults


  • SAMHSA: Model Programs


Varela, Ralph. 2001. Cultural Competent Prevention Program for At-Risk Chicano Youth. Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration/Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (SAMHSA/CSAP) Report. Washington, DC: SAMHSA, CSAP, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Ralph Varela, C.M.S.W.
Pinal Hispanic Council
712 North Main Street
Eloy, AZ 85231–2037
Phone: (520) 466-7765
Web site: