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Training a New Cohort of Prevention Professionals: Expanding the Prevention Workforce

By: Cori Hammond

State and local governments have started to receive funds from opioid litigation settlements and may face challenges deciding how to spend it. While investing in treatment and recovery support services is vitally important, it is equally important to move upstream and invest in youth prevention. Investing in evidence-based programs and research-informed initiatives that support youth and families has the potential to relieve some of the undue burden on the treatment system over the long-term—promoting wellness and preventing the risk behaviors that can potentially lead to substance misuse, substance use disorders in adulthood.

When investing in prevention, one common barrier to increasing access to youth prevention and early intervention services in communities is a workforce shortage; it was often assumed that implementing evidence-based programs would require a licensed clinician or a masters-level preventionist. This paradigm is slowly shifting, however; some communities are expanding their prevention workforce to include early career, bachelors-level “prevention specialists” or “prevention consultants,” who are trained on-the-job in relevant evidence-based programs and the basics of prevention science. 

Current models of this approach to building a quality prevention workforce infrastructure are typically subject to governors’ budget allocations, but a more sustainable funding stream could come from opioid settlements that would allow for the effective development of a well-trained workforce that can be embedded in schools and communities. As opioid settlement funding is allocated up to 18 years, taking this opportunity to hire and train a new era of prevention professionals could reap dividends for generations. This post will outline a new program in New Jersey that demonstrates this framework in practice, potentially providing a process that could be replicated in other states and jurisdictions using settlement dollars.

The New Jersey Department of Children and Families launched a new statewide school-based prevention program, the NJ Statewide Student Support Services (NJ4S) network, in 2023. This innovative approach uses a “hub-and-spoke model,” in which behavioral health organizations across the state serve as ‘hubs’ and provide evidence-based prevention education, intervention, and services to the ‘spokes,’ or specific school districts and communities in their service area. With the goal of supporting youth mental wellbeing, 15 regional hubs were created across the state. The program is firmly rooted in a Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) model—programming is spread among the three levels of public health prevention and targets parents and school faculty in addition to students. 

  • Tier 1 is universal prevention information and presentations provided to all participants regardless of risk level. 
  • Tier 2 is secondary, targeted intervention for those identified as being at-risk, usually provided in a group setting. 
  • Tier 3 is tertiary, one-on-one interventions for those who need individualized care. The regional hubs employ a cohort of prevention specialists who deliver evidence-based programs and connect students to professional care as needed and to support in the community.

Five of the regional hubs have subcontracted with Partnership to End Addiction to provide professional development, parent education, subject matter expertise, and technical assistance. Part of Partnership’s work is to ensure that the funds are being used to maximize impact by training the preventionists working at each hub to be well-informed about prevention science so that the services they deliver to students and their families are of the highest possible quality.

Because this new group of prevention specialists have widely varying backgrounds, ages, experience, and education, the Partnership team created a professional development curriculum consisting of nine core topics, with the ability to customize each to fit a hub’s specific needs. Training includes both theory and skill-based topics. Some of these trainings are:

  • the key principles of prevention science and practice
  • building youth resilience
  • risks for youth substance use and how to intervene effectively
  • co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders
  • bullying/cyberbullying prevention 
  • addressing social isolation and loneliness
  • promoting health through school and community connection. 

Though the full curriculum is recommended, hubs can select the topics that are most relevant to their staff within time and budget constraints. Training courses are delivered live either in-person or virtually with each lasting 90-120 minutes. Discussion questions are interspersed throughout, giving prevention specialists the opportunity to reflect on what they’re learning, how it relates to their lived experience in these specific communities, and how these skills can best be implemented directly into the schools and communities in which they work. Each training concludes with a “Frequently Asked Questions by Parents” module, drawn from Partnership’s years of direct support services to parents, which help teach preventionists how to appropriately respond to queries they may get from parents and caregivers on a host of topics.

There are plans for an internal evaluation at each hub to measure knowledge gained and satisfaction with the professional development offerings. Findings from these internal evaluations are expected in late summer 2024. Feedback from prevention specialist staff during the live trainings, coupled with the results from the more formal evaluations, will inform modifications to the curriculum for subsequent NJ4S trainings, as well as for trainings delivered to other sites across the country that have shown interest in offering professional development to their prevention staff.

The NJ4S program offers a useful framework that could be replicated elsewhere. Funding goes towards the “hubs” (behavioral health institutions or local non-profits that already have a strong relationship with the target community) to hire a cohort of early professionals who already live and work among the communities they serve. In addition to their own internal training, they utilize external partners (such as Partnership to End Addiction) to help deliver the necessary professional development to get this cohort ready to deliver services of the highest quality and impact. This program increases access to proven prevention resources by expanding the definition of who can provide them—a practice that other communities could easily adapt as they are investing in prevention.

The NJ4S program is an innovative, collaborative endeavor to support student wellbeing that involves all the adults in a young person’s life—schools, families, and the larger community. Collaborating with non-profit organizations in the community is an integral part of this larger program. Partnership to End Addiction is thrilled to contribute to this effort and looks forward to continuing to support the hubs as the program enters its second year. To learn more about NJ4S, please visit

About the Author:

Cori Hammond, MPH is the Director of Prevention Services at Partnership to End Addiction in New York City. Partnership’s prevention team leverages research to help raise awareness among parents, educators, health professionals, and policymakers about best practices in substance use prevention and addiction care. Cori received her Bachelor of Science in Public Health degree from Tulane University and her Master of Public Health from New York University.