Program Goals/Target Population
Families And Schools Together (FAST) is a multifamily group intervention program designed to build protective factors for children, to empower parents to be the primary prevention agents for their own children, and to build supportive parent-to-parent groups. The overall goal of the FAST program is to intervene early to help at-risk youth succeed in the community, at home, and in school and thus avoid problems such as adolescent delinquency, violence, addiction, and dropping out of school. The FAST program achieves its goals by respecting and supporting parents and by using the existing strengths of families, schools, and communities in creative partnerships. The program is geared to at-risk children ages 4 to 12 and their families.
Developed in 1988, FAST has been implemented in more than 800 schools in 45 States and five countries as of 2009. It is based on several disciplines, including social ecology of child development, child psychiatry, family stress, family systems, social support, family therapy, parent-led play therapy, group work, adult education, and community development. FAST offers youth structured opportunities for involvement in repeated relationship-building interactions with the primary caretaking parent, other family members, other families, peers, school representatives, and community representatives.
The program begins when a teacher or other school professional identifies a child with problem behaviors who is at risk for serious future academic and social problems. The professional refers the family for participation in the program, and trained recruiters—often FAST graduates—visit the parents at home to discuss the school’s concerns and invite them to participate in the program. The family then gathers with 8 to 12 other families for 8 weekly meetings, usually held in the school. The meetings, which typically last 2½ hours, include planned opening and closing routines, a family meal, structured family activities and communications, parent mutual-support time, and parent–child play therapy. These group activities support parents to help teach their child to connect to the cultures of work and school. A trained team consisting of a parent, a school professional, a clinical social worker, and a substance abuse counselor facilitates the meetings. Team members represent the ethnic or cultural background of the families participating in the program. Families participate in a graduation ceremony at the end of 8 weeks and then continue to participate in monthly follow-up meetings, run by the families, for 2 years.
In a quasi experimental research study, Kratchowill and colleagues (2004) used universal recruitment of 100 Native American children in grades K–2 from three reservation schools in a generally low-income, rural area. Over 3 years, seven multifamily group cycles of Families And Schools Together (FAST) were implemented, each lasting 8 weeks. All children were assessed and then matched into 50 pairs, based on five variables: age, gender, grade, Tribe, and teacher assessment of high versus low classroom aggression on the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). The matched pairs were then randomly assigned to FAST treatment or non–FAST control groups. The groups were comparable at entry, with no significant differences on participant characteristics. Researchers worked to keep teachers, observers, and testers “blind” concerning participants’ group status. Among the families who participated, 100 percent participated in at least one session, and 80 percent returned for at least five sessions.
The study used two widely recognized outcome measures of child behavior: the Social Skills Rating System (SSRS) and the CBCL. These measures, completed by teachers and parents, have established reliability and validity and include subscales for social skills, aggression, and academic performance. Pretest and immediate posttest data, as well as 9- to 12-month follow-up data, was collected and analyzed. Student-level and “cycle-level” analyses were used.
McDonald and colleagues (2006) used a quasi-experimental research design that involved 10 urban elementary schools that were randomly assigned to either the FAST treatment group or a comparison condition. The intervention consisted of an afterschool, multifamily FAST support group; the comparison group received eight behavioral parenting pamphlets weekly with active follow-up and an invitation to a formal lecture on parenting (Family Education, or FAME). A universal treatment strategy was used, in which all families with children in the treatment or comparison condition classrooms were recruited for the study. The study included a 2-year follow-up. This study concentrated on a subsample of 130 Latino families (80 assigned to FAST and 50 assigned to FAME) who agreed to participate in the research and the 2-year follow-up teacher data collection. Among those who agreed to join the study, 89 percent participated in at least one session, and 78 percent participated in at least five sessions. The overall completion rate was 69 percent. Among the comparison group, all families were mailed the eight pamphlets, but only 4 percent attended parent sessions.
Groups differed at entry on gender (boys comprised 54 percent of FAST and 28 percent of FAME) and grade level (third graders comprised 51 percent of FAST and 38 percent of FAME). Measures included the CBCL and the SSRS, both of which were completed by teachers of the participants. For analysis, an intent-to-treat model was used, and hierarchical repeated measures regression models were used to estimate the net effects of the FAST program after 2 years. The regression models were used to group families within the various intervention cycles.
Kratchowill and colleagues (2009) used a quasi-experimental design that involved 134 kindergarten through second-grade children identified as having behavioral problems. The children attended eight schools in an ethnically diverse school district that served at-risk, low-income communities. Letters were sent to the parents of all identified children, inviting them to participate and informing them they would have a 50 percent chance of being included in the multifamily group FAST program and a 50 percent chance of being in the “services as usual” group.
The children were initially matched into 67 pairs, based on five variables: age, gender, grade, race, and teacher assessment of high versus low classroom aggression on the CBCL. Participants were 40 percent white, 35 percent African American, 13 percent Asian, and 12 percent Hispanic. The matched pairs were then randomly assigned to the FAST intervention group or the “services as usual” control group. Among FAST families, 100 percent participated in at least one session, and 90 percent returned for at least five sessions.
Measures included the parent and teacher forms of the CBCL and the parent and teacher versions of the SSRS. The Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scales and the Family Support Scale were used to assess family functioning and social support. Teachers completing the follow-up measures were “blind” to group membership. Eight “cycles” of the FAST 8-week intervention were conducted. Posttests, conducted immediately following the 8-week FAST intervention for each cycle, and 1-year follow-up data were collected. Both student-level and cycle-level analyses of changes in scores were used.
Kratchowill and colleagues (2004) found that, compared to control students, the Families And Schools Together (FAST) students had lower scores on the teacher aggressive behavior scale and lower scores on the withdrawn scale of the parent measure. The teacher scale difference was found at the immediate posttest but not at the 9- to 12-month test, while the difference in scores on the parent measure was found at both the immediate and the 9- to 12-month tests. On the social skills measures, no significant differences were found between the groups at immediate posttest, but at the 9- to 12-month follow-up, FAST students were rated to have fewer problem behaviors than controls.
On the teacher rating of academic competence, FAST students were rated higher (d=.77) than control students.
At the 2-year posttest, McDonald and colleagues (2006) found that FAST participants had significantly lower teacher-reported externalizing behavior scores than comparison participants, but the groups did not differ on their internalizing scores.
Child Social Skills
Child social skills 2 years after intervention were rated significantly higher for FAST students than for the students in the comparison group.
There were no significant differences at 2 years between the groups on academic competence scores of the teacher-completed Social Skills Rating System (SSRS).
Two years after intervention, teachers rated FAST students significantly higher than comparison students on the academic scale of the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL).
Kratchowill and colleagues (2009) found no differences between the groups for either internalizing or externalizing behaviors as measured by the CBCL, and only one subgroup difference in favor of the FAST group and one subgroup in favor of the control group.
Child Social Skills
There were no differences between the groups for any areas of social skills ratings.
Of the family variables, participants in the FAST group, compared to the control group, had significantly improved family adaptability at both posttests (d=1.35), but there was no difference between the groups on family cohesion or support.
Special Education Placements
There was a difference between the groups in the number of special education placements (one FAST student and four control students), which favored the FAST group. Only descriptive statistics were provided for this outcome, due to the small number of students who received placements.