Girl Power©™ Theory, Conceptual Underpinnings and Hypothesis

Selective Prevention Strategy

Girl Power logoThe Girl Power program is a selective prevention program. Selective prevention strategies target subsets of the total population that are deemed to be at risk for substance abuse by virtue of their membership in a particular population segment. Risk groups are identified on the basis of biological, psychological, social or environmental risk factors known to be associated with substance abuse and targeted subgroups may be defined by age, gender, family history, place of residence such as high drug use or low-income neighborhoods and victimization by physical and/or sexual abuse. Selective prevention targets the entire subgroup regardless of the degree of risk of any individual within the group. The selective prevention program is presented to the entire subgroup because the subgroup as a whole is at higher risk for substance abuse than the general population.

The Girl Power program targets 10-14 year old girls. Studies show that substance abuse among female adolescents has increased and that the rate of increase is greater than that among male adolescents. This population is especially at risk for substance abuse for these reasons.


  • Biologically they are moving from childhood to adolescence, when experimentation with substance abuse often begins.
  • This population is becoming more aware and more self conscious of the changes occurring in their bodies due to puberty.
  • Biological changes are sparking both emotional and social challenges.


  • There is a marked decrease in self esteem and self efficacy among this population with the onset of adolescence.
  • They are becoming increasingly independent and are freeing themselves from total dependence on their parents.


  • The social environments of girls are becoming increasingly harsh. Some studies are reporting that 83 percent of girls report being touched, pinched and grabbed in sexual ways in school and that over one fourth of girls have experienced violence from boys they are dating. (Amaro, H.; The social context of being a girl: Implications for prevention of substance use. July 1994 Presentation at the Resource Link III meeting of the CSAP NRC, Washington, DC )
  • Young girls who are forced to have sex are three times more likely to develop psychiatric disorders or abuse alcohol and drugs in adulthood, than girls who are not sexually abused. (Kenneth S. Kendler, M.D., et al, Medical College of Virginia Commonwealth University, Archives of General Psychiatry 2000;57:953-959.)


  • They begin to have more unsupervised time, especially the critical period from 3 – 6 p.m.
  • The schools, communities and society they live in are becoming increasingly hostile and violent.

The combination of these factors put 10-14 year old girls at greater risk for substance abuse and other related social and health problems.

Risk and Protective Factor Theoretical Framework

Theoretical frameworks in the substance abuse prevention field have been evolving over the years and through research the risk and protective factor framework has become one of the most important descriptive and predictive frameworks. Risk factors can be defined as personal and environmental factors that place a child at higher risk of substance abuse and negative behaviors. What researchers have found is that the more risk factors present in a child’s life the more likely they will experience substance abuse and related problems in adolescence or young adulthood. It has also been shown the more the risk factors in a child’s life can be reduced, the less vulnerable that child will be to subsequent health and social problems. (Hawkins, J. D., Catalano, R. F., & Miller, J. Y. (1992). Risk and protective factors for alcohol and other drug problems in adolescence and early adulthood: Implications for substance abuse prevention. PSYCHOLOGICAL BULLETIN, 112(1), 64-105.)

Research has also demonstrated that exposure to great numbers of risk factors does not necessarily mean that a child will develop substance abuse or related health and social problems. Many researchers attribute this to the presence of protective factors. Protective factors are defined as personal and environmental factors that help reduce the risk of substance abuse and other negative behaviors. Hawkins et al. state that protective balance and buffer risk factors. It is understood that increasing protective factors and decreasing risk factors in a child’s life can effectively prevent the use of substances among children and adolescents.

The Girl Power substance abuse prevention program is based in Hawkins and Catalano’s Risk and Protective Factor Framework. Risk and protective factors exist at every level at which an individual interacts with others and the society around them. These factors are commonly organized around six life domains. They are:

  • Individual
  • Peer
  • Family
  • School
  • Community
  • Society

The Girl Power program aligns with accepted prevention programming principles to prevent substance abuse and related health ad social problems among girls 9-15 years old.

Girl Power:

  • Focuses on reducing known risk factors
  • Enhances protective factors
  • Addresses risk factors at the appropriate developmental stage
  • Targets multiple risk factors across several domains
  • Delivers the program to reach diverse racial and cultural groups
  • Works together with other people and organizations to address multiple risk factors

The goals and objectives of the Girl Power program have been developed to help reduce risk factors and increase protective factors across several life domains.

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