1. Familias Unidas

Familias Unidas

Program Goals/Target Population

Familias Unidas works to promote positive parenting, involvement, and support. The program aims to increase parental involvement with their child’s peers and school and to improve family bonding and cohesion. It also focuses on building supportive relationships amongst Hispanic immigrant parents, to integrate them into the greater community and reduce feelings of social isolation. By providing parents with additional knowledge and tools to raise healthy children, the intervention aims to prevent or reduce iIlicit drug use, antisocial behavior, and risky sexual behavior.


This program was designed for Hispanic immigrant families living in the United States. It focuses on adolescent youth, ages 12 to 17, and parents to improve family functioning, promote protective factors, and reduce risk factors for problem behavior.


Program Theory

Familias Unidas builds upon ecodevelopmental theory—which holds that adolescent behavior is the result of risk and protective factors operating at multiple levels—to integrate parents into their children’s friendship networks and school environment to prevent risks from compounding one another.


The intervention focuses on parents and family functioning. However, program personnel also help parents meet with school teachers and counselors and engage in family activities that include their child’s friends. This is intended to connect parents to these two social realms (peers and school) and show their child that they are invested in his or her life.


Program Activities 

Trained program personnel help parents develop parenting skills through group sessions involving 10 to 12 parents. At least 1 parent from each family participates. These sessions last for 2 hours, and facilitators have parents engage in solving problematic situations and other group exercises to build their supportive parenting skills. Parents are encouraged to apply the skills they learn in these sessions with their children at home. Group discussions focus on parents' understanding of their role in protecting their child and investing in his or her future. Interventions last from 3 to 5 months, depending on the population.


Familias Unidas proceeds in three stages. First, the program facilitator works with parents and builds cohesion among those in the group sessions. Next, parents are told about the three primary adolescent "worlds" (family, peers, and school), and parents are asked to voice concerns they have with their child within each one of these realms. For example, one family may be worried about disobedience, another may disagree with their child’s choice of friends, and another may be worried about school performance. Facilitators take these concerns and steer the intervention to address these specific problems. The last stage is where facilitators work on teaching parenting skills to the group to decrease the problem behaviors discussed in earlier sessions. In this third stage, facilitators will conduct home visits to supervise parent–child interactions and give further instruction on the skills addressed in the group sessions. Each family receives up to eight home visits.

Intervention ID

12 to 17


Study 1

Although the study Pantin and colleagues (2003) reported some significant findings, the preponderance of evidence showed that the intervention group did not improve significantly compared to the control group.


Parental Investment

Between baseline and the first assessment at 3 months, both groups experienced an increase in parental investment. The control group, however, had higher levels (indicated by a sharper growth) of parental investment than the intervention group. Between the 3- and 9-month assessments, the control group’s levels of parental investment had flattened out; it even started to decrease sharply at the 9-month mark. During this same time period, the intervention group displayed its greatest increase in parental investment. At the 9- and 12-month assessments, the intervention group’s parental investment declined as well.


At no time period in the study did the intervention group evidence greater gains in parental investment than the control group. Between the 6- and 9-month assessment periods, the two groups were parallel, displaying the same levels. After the 9-month assessment, both groups’ levels of parental investment declined, but the intervention groups’ decline was not as great as the control group.


Adolescent Behavior Problems

The intervention group experienced a steady decline in behavior problems throughout the course of the evaluation. The control group displayed a sharp increase in behavior problems between the 3- and 6-month assessments, but this was followed by a dramatic decline. By the 12-month follow-up, the two groups had similar low levels of behavior problems.


School Bonding/Academic Achievement

The Familias Unidas intervention had no effects on school bonding or academic achievement compared to the control group.


Antisocial Behavior

Although no statistically significant results were found, the proportion of youth with reported behavioral problems decreased at a faster rate in the treatment condition (from 68.2 percent at baseline to 32.6 percent at the 30-month follow-up) than in the comparison group (from 64.7 percent at baseline to 41.0 percent at the 30-month follow-up).


Risky Sexual Behavior

There were no differences across groups on whether adolescents engaged in sexual activity. Youth in the treatment group did, however, report significantly higher levels of condom use from 6 to 30 months after baseline assessment than youth in the control group. Thus Familias Unidas did not prevent sexual activity from happening, but it had a marked impact on whether adolescents engaged in safer sex practices.


Family Functioning

Parents participating in the intervention reported significantly greater improvements in family functioning than those in the control condition. Further analyses revealed parents in the treatment group reported significant changes in positive parenting, parent–adolescent communication, and parental monitoring of peers. Mediation analysis showed that family functioning partially mediated the effects of Familias Unidas on youth substance abuse.


Study 2

However, the 2009 study by Pantin and colleagues did find significant differences between the treatment and control groups.


Substance Use

There was a significant difference in substance use in the previous 30 days between the treatment and comparison group adolescents. Of Familias Unidas adolescents, 15 percent reported substance use at baseline. This increased to 21 percent at the 6-month follow-up and peaked at 25 percent at the 30-month follow-up, where it remained stable. The proportion of comparison group youth reporting substance abuse at baseline was 13 percent. This escalated to 34 percent at the 30-month follow-up. This equates to a 162 percent increase in substance use over time for the control group.

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