The Early Risers ‘Skills for Success’ Program is a comprehensive preventive intervention that targets elementary school children (ages 6 to 10) who are at high risk for early development of conduct problems (i.e., who display early aggressive, disruptive, or nonconformist behaviors). The Early Risers Program aims to prevent high-risk children’s further development of problem behaviors by improving their social and academic skills and intervening in their family environment.
A great deal of research suggests that children who are identified as exhibiting early aggressive behavior can develop later serious and chronic antisocial behavior, including serious aggression and violence (August, Realmuto, Hektner, and Bloomquist 2001). Early aggression in children can lead to a progressive stacking of disruptive behavior and failed skill acquisition, which in turn can result in significant issues with school, family, and friends—including academic failure, alienation from family members, peer rejection, and more serious conduct problems. This developmental pathway of antisocial behavior has several theoretical labels (e.g., early starter model of antisocial behavior, life-course persistent antisocial behavior, the aggressive–versatile pathway). The goal of Early Risers is to alter the developmental trajectory of early aggressive, high-risk children onto a more adaptive developmental pathway.
The program targets elementary school children (ages 6 to 10) who are at high risk for early development of conduct problems, including substance use (i.e., who display early aggressive, disruptive, or nonconformist behaviors).
Intervention components of Early Risers integrate social learning, social development, and cognitive–behavioral models. The program also draws on developmental theory and comprehensive parenting interventions to preempt problem and delinquent behavior in young children exhibiting early aggression, which can progress into more serious conduct problems.
The program targets four salient competence domains related to an adaptive developmental pathway: 1) academic competence; 2) behavioral self-regulation; 3) social competence; and 4) parent investment in his/her child. Deficits in these domains can increase a child’s risk for future antisocial behaviors. Enhancing these domains can serve as a protection against future risk.
The enhanced competence gained through the program leads to the development of positive self-image, independent decision-making, healthy problem-solving, assertive communication, and constructive coping. Once acquired, these attributes and skills collectively enable youths to resist personal and social forces that encourage early substance use and potential abuse and dependency.
Early Risers is a multicomponent, high-intensity, competency-enhancement program based on the premise that early, comprehensive, and sustained intervention is necessary to target multiple risk and protective factors. Early Risers uses a full-strength intervention model with two complementary components, CORE and FLEX. The interventions are:
· Parent education and skills training
· Proactive parent–school consultation
· Child social skills training and strategic peer involvement
· Reading/educational enrichment activities
· Family support, consultation, and brief interventions to cope with stress
· Contingency management of aggressive, disruptive, and noncompliant behavior
The CORE component is delivered during 6 weeks of summer school sessions and includes ongoing teacher consultation and student mentoring during the school day as well as a biweekly family program that consists of parent education, skills training, and child social skills training groups. The FLEX component is delivered at the same time but functions as a prevention case management tool to handle unique family issues that the CORE curriculum may not be able to adequately address. FLEX uses family strengths as levers for change and adapts services to the individual needs of children, parents, and families.
6 to 10
August and colleagues’ (2002) intent-to-treat analyses revealed academic achievement that was significantly higher for the Early Risers intervention group, compared with the control group, after 3 years of intervention. The academic achievements of the treatment group after 3 years of intervention were within the normative range of students (i.e., children not exhibiting early aggressive behavior).
Social Skills and Aggressive Behavior
Both program and control children showed reductions in self-regulation problems. The treatment and control groups did not show significant differences in aggression. However, those program children with the highest level of aggressive behavior showed significantly increased self-regulation compared with their high-aggressive control counterparts (although not at every follow-up).
Intent-to-treat analysis showed significant differences in parental discipline in the treatment and control groups after 3 years of intervention. The greater levels of parental discipline in the treatment group were within the range of the normative sample (i.e., children not exhibiting early aggression). Parents who attended more than half of the family sessions reported improved discipline practices over time, while those who attended fewer than half of the sessions reported no appreciable change in practices. At the end of the sessions, parents with high attendance reported significantly better discipline practices than those with low attendance (effect size = 0.41).
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