Thursday, April 27, 2017

Public Places Safety for Families

Remember the last time your family made a trip to the local city park? The kids are in the back seat
talking about which part of the playground they will play on first. One is looking forward to the swings; the other can’t wait to go down the curvy slide. When you pull into the park, you notice the large number of cars. There are people sitting in their lawn chairs and hanging out on the picnic tables consuming alcohol. You notice a few teenagers from your neighborhood also consuming the alcohol as well. Does this concern you?

Forty-four percent (44%) of Van Buren County youth report that it is easy or very easy to get alcoholic beverages.  Fourteen percent (14%) of Van Buren County 11th grade students report getting their alcohol from a friend over the age of 21 and twelve percent (12%) say they got it at a party (2014 Iowa Youth Survey).  Youth and young adults reported during community focus groups that there is access to alcohol in public places, specifically at co-ed softball tournaments.  As parents and adults, we talk to our kids and we explain the dangers of alcohol to them. We know that alcohol is associated with many issues including death, injury, crime, violence, teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and violations of the good conduct policies. Yet, some older friends and siblings of our children are providing alcohol to them against our wishes.

Communities that permit alcohol use on public property, such as parks and outdoor recreation facilities, allow situations where underage drinking may occur. These public spaces make it easier for youth to get alcohol because they are not subject to the server laws that bars, restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores must follow. By developing policies regarding alcohol use in these public places, communities help eliminate potential problem areas. The positive result: a more welcoming, healthy, safer community where individuals and families enjoy favorite hobbies and time together.  Through the Iowa Partnerships for Success Grant the SAFE Coalition is encouraging local city councils to consider implementing these types of policies for public places in Van Buren County. 

Preventative restrictions can range from limiting the time or location of alcohol use, rules for use or bans on alcohol consumption. For example, some communities may establish a distance between alcohol use and playground equipment, or require a city permit to have alcohol at a gathering.  If we, as a community, start putting these restrictions in place, we stand against irresponsible alcohol use, saying, “It is not OK to provide alcohol to a minor and there is no such thing as a ‘safe place’ for underage drinking.”

In order to bring about community change, we must decide what our community represents. Who do we want to attract to the area?  What do we want our children or grandchildren growing up around?  What are the benefits and drawbacks of allowing alcohol use in public spaces versus restricting the use?

Help your community make these decisions and change local thinking about alcohol. When you are at community events and public areas, say something to law enforcement if you see someone providing alcohol to minors.

To learn more about underage drinking and the current efforts to reduce it, check out the coalition website at If you have any questions regarding the Iowa Partnership for Success Grant, the strategies being implemented in Van Buren County or would like to volunteer your time, please feel free to contact the SAFE Coalition at 319-293-6412 or

These efforts are funded by the Iowa Partnerships for Success Grant, provided by the Iowa Department of Public Health through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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