Family Support Around the World – Iceland

A series of blogs about families and substance use by our Policy and Research Assistant, Rebecca McColl.

The Planet Youth Model (also known as the Icelandic Model) made local news in Dundee after school pupils at a Dundee high school were chosen to ‘kick-start’ the model in Scotland. Planet Youth started in Iceland in 1999 and has since been adapted and used by over 30 countries around the world. The Planet Youth Model has also been making the news across Scotland, as other areas have begun to get involved. So, what is it? What does it do?

What is Planet Youth?

Planet Youth is a prevention model aimed at improving the lives of young people. It aims to strengthen links between schools and communities and encourage families to spend quality time with their children. The overall aim of the model is to reduce youth substance use, substance use harms, improve mental wellbeing and family connections.

According to the Society for the Study of Addiction, Iceland had high rates of substance use amongst young people in the 1990s, which led to the creation and implementation of Planet Youth (then known in Iceland as the ‘Youth in Iceland Model’). Since then, there has been a significant decrease in substance use shown in data from between 1997 and 2014. Drunkenness decreased from 29.6% to 3.6%, and tobacco use decreased from 17% to 1.6%. This was achieved by the Planet Youth Model using a community-based approach to reduce potential risk factors and increase protective factors.  Essentially, Planet Youth finds out what is happening with young people, then puts plans in place to decrease any negatives (such as substance use) and increase any positives (such as sports and recreational activities).

What’s happening in Scotland?

Since 2019, a multidisciplinary team has been looking at the evidence supporting Planet Youth and how it could be implemented in Dundee. In February 2020, a group from Dundee, including a family member, travelled to Iceland’s capital Reykjavík and spoke to school pupils to hear their experiences of Planet Youth. School pupils are asked to fill in a survey, which then allows Planet Youth to understand youth trends, what risk factors are prevalent and when they change. Pupils said they were honest in the survey as it is completely anonymous, and the results benefit them as they lead to leisure and sports activities that suit them. The video following the group’s journey can be viewed here.

The findings were shared in April 2021 along with the video. Next steps were put in place, with Winning Scotland set to begin Planet Youth surveys in five areas of Scotland (Dundee, Clackmannanshire, West Dunbartonshire, Highland and Argyll and Bute) in September and October 2021 (just last month!). The University of Stirling says that Planet Youth is designed to stop increasing drug-related harms in future generations and is not a ‘sticking plaster’, it is a long-term solution. Inga Dora Sigfusdottir, ICSRA Founder and Scientific Director said Planet Youth is about taking responsibility away from the child and placing responsibility on policymakers to ensure every child can live a happy, healthy life and support parents and families.

How does it work?

The image below from the University of Stirling shows the different factors involved in a young person’s life that impact them.

Image from the University of Stirling

A young person can have a lot to contend with, such as home life (relationships with family), the effect of their peers, schoolwork alongside the school environment and the expectation to be involved in extracurricular activities/leisure time. Each young person’s experience with all these factors can be vastly different. Planet Youth aims to hear from each young person in the community to make sure they have the tools to deal with any difficulties and fill the gaps that young people need.

By doing this, Planet Youth works as a prevention method. As seen in Iceland, when the needs of the community are met, fewer young people engage in alcohol or drug use. A study conducted this year found that people in Scotland were supportive of the implementation of Planet Youth, as long as there was a successful trial period and the program was altered to be more culturally appropriate to Scotland. Watch this space!

What do you think of Iceland’s Planet Youth? Email with any thoughts.

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