Survey says: Our teens drink more than most

Some progress, some setbacks in response

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By Cassandra West

Underage drinking rates in Oak Park and River Forest are improving in some areas, according to Illinois Youth Survey (IYS) data. For instance, the "past 30-day" underage drinking rates for 8th graders fell from 19 percent in 2012 to 10 percent in 2016. 

The percentage of high school sophomores who report obtaining alcohol at a retail source, however, grew worse from 2014 to 2016, going from 9 percent to 11 percent. The rates at which high school seniors are obtaining alcohol from a retail source was 14 percent higher than that of the 2014 state average.

These statistics made it clear that the two communities have an ongoing problem with underage drinking. To address it, the Oak Park River Forest Workgroup for Positive Youth Development (PYD) formed as a coalition made up of more than 40 parents, educators, law enforcement officials and other youth-focused organizations, including Success of All Youth.

In March 2015, PYD was awarded a five-year grant from the Federal Center for Substance Abuse Prevention based on Oak Park and River Forest being identified as communities with higher rates of underage drinking compared to the rest of the state. The Illinois Department of Human Services administers the grant.

PYD uses the Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF), a five-step process for preventing substance use and misuse. 

Aimee Bates came on board last October to coordinate SPF for the workgroup, which has devised several strategies to combat attitudes toward underage drinking. She is working on implementing compliance checks by partnering with the police departments in both villages and educating local businesses. "All we want them to do is card, effectively ID youth," Bates said. "Youth are telling us in focus groups and surveys that they're not being carded."

Any business that holds or sells alcohol should be trained to encourage responsible and legal alcohol sales and service, said Bates. 

The workshop also launched two ongoing media campaigns, aimed at youth and parents that carry messages such as "Keep OPRF teens healthy & alcohol free" and "When you're drinking, you're not thinking." 

The workgroup also offers a multiweek program called FACE-IT, which stands for Families Acting Collaboratively to Educate and Involve Teens. Parent(s) and youth attend together and can be referred for five, eight or 12 weeks of programming.

SAY Connects is sponsored by the Good Heart Work Smart Foundation in partnership with Success for All Youth (SAY).

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