PROTEGO - a selective intervention programme for the prevention of tobacco, alcohol and other drug use in the family

At a glance

Country of origin

  • Spain

Last reviewed:

Age group
6-10 years
11-14 years
Target group
Family/parents with their children (9-13)/ (8-14)
Programme setting(s)

Level(s) of intervention

  • Selective prevention

PROTEGO is a selective intervention programme for the prevention of tobacco, alcohol and other drug use in the family. It is a based on the improvement of the educational skills of families through the application of a group intervention.  It consists of eight two-hour sessions for groups of 12 to 15 parents of children and adolescents aged 9 to 13 years. It focuses on developing and enhancing parenting skills, addressing risk factors and family protection through educational activities. It aims to strengthen the bonds between parents and children, and to define and clarify the family´s position on substance use.


No data

Contact details

Jaume Larriba
Technical Director
PDS – Promoción y Desarrollo Social, asociación
C/ Provenza, 79 bajos 3a - 08029 Barcelona (Spain)
Phone ++(34) 934 307 170 – ++(34) 678 505 102 |
Fax ++(34)934 390 773
Email: jlarriba[a]

Name of organisation: 'P.D.S. – Promoció i Desenvoluapment Social (P.D.S. - Promoción y Desarrollo Social-)'
Street address: Provença street 79, ground flour 3.
Postal code: 08029
City: Barcelona
Country: Spain
E-mail: aduran[a]

Overview of results from the European studies

Evidence rating

  • Additional studies recommended
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Studies overview

The programme has been evaluated in one quasi-experimental study in Spain and one pre-post study with 12 months follow-up without control group. The quasi-experimental study was conducted among families (n=259) served by social services or specialised units in 12 territories, less than 12 months after the intervention (parents with problems of addiction were excluded). The study showed small but significant effects on communication skills, conflict management and cohesion, and family bonding among parents moderated by implementation and participation. There were no outcome measures related to substance use (only parents were evaluated). There was no difference in cohesion, family bonding and family communication.

The longitudinal study was conducted between 12 and 16 months after the pre-test, and 10 – 14 months after the post-test. The study showed statistically significant differences; it showed that all the measures were positive, except for behavioural monitoring, indicating that most outcomes were maintained. Family positioning on drugs increased over time.

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Countries where evaluated

  • Spain


Protective factor(s) addressed

  • Family: attachment to and support from parents
  • Family: parent involvement in learning/education
  • Individual and peers: Problem solving skills

Risk factor(s) addressed

  • Family: family management problems
  • Family: parental attitudes favourable to alcohol/drug use

Outcomes targeted

  • Positive relationships
  • Relations with parents
  • Other behaviour outcomes

Description of programme

PROTEGO is a relatively long and intensive prevention program applied to small groups of parents from families that show a cumulative presence of risk factors. The programme’s overall objective is to modify the exposure to family risk and protective factors for substance abuse among high risk children and adolescents. It does so by improving parenting skills (communication, limits, norms, monitoring), strengthening family ties and clarifying the family position in relation to drug use.

PROTEGO is based on the socio-ecological model of drug prevention that addresses personal and environmental factors. The programme targets at-risk families (parents) with adolescent children (9-13 year olds), that have a history of behaviour or school problems which did not require a therapeutic intervention. It consists of 8 two-hour weekly sessions, over the course of two and a half months, where trainers work directly with the parents in a neutral space. The sessions provide direct educational skills for the better development of family relationships. The creation of a group climate facilitates the sharing of problems faced by families and personal difficulties in their education. The programme modules consist of: 1. Definition of behaviour change objectives, 2. Communication skills, 3. Reduction of conflicts and improvement of family relations, 3. Setting standards and limits, 5. Supervision, sanctions and family ties, 6. Family position regarding the use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, 7. Troubleshooting, 8. Follow-up.

PROTEGO should be applied by two people: one who guides the training sessions and one who observes and supports the group sessions. The former should have training and experience in the field of psychology, as well as knowledge on drug prevention. The latter may have less experience, however, it is highly recommended that both are trained in the development of the programme.

The programme manual is given to families, as are the summary hand-outs at the end of each session. The manual includes: (i) information on the characteristics of the programme, (ii) guidelines for motivating and retaining families, and (iii) guidelines for its implementation, including session rationale, specific objectives, and detailed description of the procedure. The programme is available on the website of the PDS.

PROTEGO has been widely used since it was first developed and implemented by Promoció i Desenvolupament Social´ (PDS) in 2001; it has also been adapted for implementation in different social and cultural environments. There is a Romanian translation and adaptation of PROTEGO. A Latin American (Spanish and Portuguese) adaptation of the program was developed as a component of an URB-AL project and used in the municipalities involved in the project: Buenos Aires (Argentina), Medellin (Colombia), Montevideo (Uruguay) and Santo André (Brazil). A specific version for Bolivia was also developed.

Following the evaluation of PROTEGO, a new version was edited PROTEGO Version 2. Training on positive parenting and educational skills for mothers and fathers.

Implementation Experiences

Feedback date

Contact details

Jaume Larriba-Montull

Main obstacles

With respect to individual professionals

The main obstacles for professionals are related to the selection, recruitment and retention of participants and their training of professionals for this purpose. Protego is a selective family prevention programme (aimed mainly at parents lacking skills required to manage challenges and difficulties related to their children’s education). This means that a large proportion of the target population that may benefit from participation in the programme is unaware of the benefits that it can bring and is often reluctant to participate. Therefore, the professionals in charge of recruiting participants (usually social service professionals) must manage such resistance. In addition, these professionals sometimes also have difficulty in determining whether or not an individual meets the requirements for inclusion in the programme or, by contrast, presents criteria for exclusion from participation in the programme.

With respect to social context

The main difficulties are related to some of the characteristics of the people to whom the programme is addressed: external locus of control, low awareness of need and/or low level of commitment to the education of children. In addition, participants also often have difficulties finding care for their children during the programme sessions and it can be difficult finding suitable times for parental participation.

With respect to organisational and economic context

Protego is a selective prevention programme aimed at parents with a low level of commitment to their children’s education and/or with few educational skills and who face difficulties related to family management. This, in addition to the fact that recruitment is usually done through social services, means that potential participants often have a low or very low socioeconomic status. This can sometimes lead to difficulties in attending programme sessions, especially for people living in rural areas and/or in remote areas that are poorly connected to the place where programme sessions are held (due to transport difficulties or cost). The working conditions of these people can also be an obstacle, since often, if they have a job, they have to work variable or unpredictable shifts.

Other obstacles may stem from a lack of interest and/or real political commitment to investing efforts in a programme such as this, which, while proven to be effective, requires significant effort and resources and is targeted at, by their very nature and needs, small groups, as opposed to being a universal prevention intervention.

How they overcame the obstacles

With respect to individual professionals

Training and guidance are provided to the professionals in charge of recruiting participants. In this regard, in the latest revised version of the programme manual the section devoted to providing guidance for the recruitment and retention of participants has been expanded. Such aspects are also included in the training plan for the implementation of the programme. In addition, orientation sessions are usually held with professionals prior to the recruitment of participants in the locations in which the programme is implemented.

With respect to social context

Motivational strategies were used, facilitating as much as possible childcare needs so that parents could participate in the programme and a very flexible schedule for application of the programme was offered.

With respect to organisational and economic context

The involvement and collaboration of grass-roots local professionals were sought, since they understand the needs of the people who can benefit from the intervention.

When possible, additional incentives for participants were provided, such as transport facilities and/or aids.

Promoting the coordination of the contents worked on in the programme with the services that are charged to recruit the participating families, to contribute by this way to consolidate the changes brought about by the implementation of the programme.

Lessons learnt

With respect to individual professionals

An important lesson learnt, as demonstrated by the programme evaluation study, is that difficulties in the recruitment and retention of participants can be overcome (at least at acceptable levels) and are not a real impediment to the implementation of the programme, provided that the guidelines and suggestions for addressing these obstacles provided in both the programme manual and the training programme for its implementation are rigorously followed.

With respect to social context

The importance of using appropriate strategies to address participants’ motivation and the fact that this is key to their recruitment were recognised. Once the programme has started, the use of motivational strategies, social support and adapting schedules, while still important, is less important than the use of motivational strategies for participant recruitment, as the gains derived from participation in the programme reinforce its importance: participation becomes motivating per se as the programme progresses.

With respect to organisational and economic context

After overcoming the initial difficulties, and once the programme has been implemented in a community, the intervention is often repeated and the programme is well accepted in the community. Such consolidation occurs because the people involved usually appreciate that the benefits and positive aspects of programme implementation outweigh the efforts required for implementation. The programme also contributes to overcoming social inequality by helping to empower disadvantaged families in the education of their children.

Another important aspect to bear in mind is that Protego generally targets people who need to make important changes to their educational habits. The evaluation of the programme has shown its capacity to bring about and sustain such changes in the medium term. However, while most participants experience positive changes in their children’s educational habits and patterns after the implementation of the programme, such changes should continue to be reinforced and supported to expand and consolidate them. To this end — given that Protego is a selective intervention programme, whose participants are referred by different social and community care services and resources — these services and resources constitute a very useful tool for giving continuity to the changes brought about by the application of the programme. For all of these reasons, it is advisable to strengthen the articulation of the contents of the programme with the derivative services in order to consolidate the changes brought about by application. To this end, a registration and assessment form for participants is included as an annex to facilitate feedback to the professionals who referred participants to the programme.


There is a programme manual. Following evaluation of the initial version of the manual, there is now a revised and updated version, which incorporates improvements based on the evaluation. The manual contains support materials and tools for the process evaluation of the sessions carried out. It includes a training plan for professionals. The programme was designed with sustainability in mind. It has proven to be effective and capable of promoting lasting changes in the participating families.


It requires trained and motivated resources (staff/professionals), structure (infrastructure and logistics) and well trained professionals. This requires a relatively high level of investment in terms of both resources and cost, especially in the initial stages.


The growing interest in parent education issues and the fight against social inequality may encourage the use of the programme.


The high number of other interventions, aimed at other family profiles (universal prevention interventions), that are shorter and require fewer resources and less investment, even though not adequate or shown to be not effective in populations with higher levels of exposure to risk factors (selective programmes), may pose a threat by competing with more appropriate but more demanding interventions, such as Protego.


With respect to individual professionals

It is very important to provide training for the professionals involved in the programme, to guarantee both the adequate and the faithful application of the programme and to ensure a good recruitment and retention process for participants.

It is also important to promote interactivity, making the implementation of the programme practical, dynamic and participatory, and to encourage learning by all.

It is important that, during the implementation of the programme sessions, even if a managerial approach is adopted, active listening is practised, mutual support is encouraged and the strengths of the participants are highlighted (so that they develop skills but also perceive personal self-efficacy).

It is also important to encourage the participating families to apply the knowledge and skills acquired in the programme sessions in a real context in order to generalise the learning and verify its validity in the natural environment. For this purpose, each session of the programme includes a section on homework and a section on reviewing homework.

With respect to social context

It is important to ensure that the programme is interwoven with the social and community care services and resources of the territory and that it has the support of professionals from these services.

It may also be important to adapt the examples and exercises of the programme sessions to the characteristics of the local reality.

With respect to organisational and economic context

It is necessary to provide the necessary resources (for recruitment of participants, training of professionals, implementation of programme sessions, monitoring and evaluation, incentives and motivation of participants, etc.).

Number of implementations