Background: Despite endorsement by the Saskatchewan government to apply empirically-based approaches to youth drug prevention services in the province, programs are sometimes delivered prior to the establishment of evidence-informed goals and objectives. This paper shares the 'preptory' outcomes of our team's program evaluation of the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region Mental Health and Addiction Services' Outreach Worker Service (OWS) in eight rural, community schools three years following its implementation. Before our independent evaluation team could assess whether expectations of the OWS were being met, we had to assist with establishing its overarching program goals and objectives and 'at-risk' student population, alongside its alliance with an empirically-informed theoretical framework.
Methods: A mixed-methods approach was applied, beginning with in-depth focus groups with the OWS staff to identify the program's goals and objectives and targeted student population. These were supplemented with OWS and school administrator interviews and focus groups with school staff. Alignment with a theoretical focus was determined though a review of the OWS's work to date and explored in focus groups between our evaluation team and the OWS staff and validated with the school staff and OWS and school administration.
Results: With improved understanding of the OWS's goals and objectives, our evaluation team and the OWS staff aligned the program with the Positive Youth Development theoretical evidence-base, emphasizing the program's universality, systems focus, strength base, and promotion of assets. Together we also gained clarity about the OWS's definition of and engagement with its 'at-risk' student population.
Conclusions: It is important to draw on expert knowledge to develop youth drug prevention programming, but attention must also be paid to aligning professional health care services with a theoretically informed evidence-base for evaluation purposes. If time does not permit for the establishment of evidence-informed goals and objectives at the start-up of a program, obtaining insight and expertise from program personnel and school staff and administrators can bring the program to a point where this can still be achieved and theoretical linkages made after a program has been implemented. This is a necessary foundation for measuring an intervention's success.