1. Positive Family Support (PFS)

Positive Family Support (PFS)

Program Goals/Target Population
The Positive Family Support (PFS) program, formerly known as Adolescent Transitions Program (ATP), is a multilevel, family-centered intervention targeting children at risk for problem behaviors or substance use and their families. Designed to address family dynamics related to the risk of adolescent problem behavior, the program is delivered to parents and their children in a middle school setting. Parent-focused segments of PFS concentrate on developing family management skills such as making requests, using rewards, monitoring, making rules, providing reasonable consequences for rule violations, problem solving, and active listening.

The program’s intermediate goal is to improve parents’ family management and communication skills. The long-term goal is to hinder the development of adolescent antisocial behaviors and drug experimentation. To accomplish these goals, the intervention uses a “tiered” strategy and links universal, selected, and indicated intervention services available to families and youths. The PFS framework’s core feature is that specific intervention services are individually determined for each family in order to adapt the provided treatment to their needs and motivational levels. The program promotes self-selection of the most appropriate intervention services based on a systematic assessment of parent and child functioning.

Program Activities
PFS integrates universal, selected, and indicated family-centered strategies. Each level builds on the previous level. These tiers are also designed to dovetail and enhance (through family engagement and involvement) current school-wide behavior programs [e.g., Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)] and other tiered intervention approaches (e.g., Response to Intervention).

Universal intervention. The universal level is directed to the parents of all students. This level’s goals include engaging parents, establishing norms for parenting practices, and disseminating information about risks for problem behaviors and substance use. At this level, a family resource center is established at participating middle schools to provide parent-centered services such as brief consultations or access to books and videotapes. A Parent Consultant is also available to parents who have concerns or interest in supporting their child’s adjustment to school. In addition, at the universal level, students are provided with six in-class lessons referred to as Success, Health, and Peace. This curriculum was modeled on the LifeSkills Training Program. The foci of the six sessions are:

  1. school success
  2. health decisions
  3. building positive peer groups
  4. the cycle of respect
  5. coping with stress and anger
  6. solving problems peacefully

Each week, an interactive parent–child homework activity that emphasizes and encourages family management is assigned. The universal intervention is designed to support positive parenting practices and engage parents of high-risk youths in the selected intervention.

Selected intervention. The second level of PFS engages the family in support of second tier school interventions such as PBIS’s Check-in/Check-out and also includes the Family Check-Up (FCU). The FCU is a brief, three-session family intervention that consists of an initial interview, an assessment session, and a motivational feedback session. During the initial interview, the therapist facilitates a discussion with parents about goals, concerns, and their personal motivation for change. The assessment session includes a short assessment packet, which is provided to the parents, child, and teacher, as well as a videotaped family interaction assessment (which is optional). Finally, during the feedback session, the therapist discusses results of the assessment in terms of providing motivation to change and identifying one or more intervention options from a family-centered intervention menu. The FCU is based on motivational interviewing techniques designed to enhance family engagement and stimulate the behavior change process (Miller and Rollnick 2002).

Indicated intervention. At the third level, direct professional support is provided to parents (based on the results of the FCU) through services including behavioral family therapy, monitoring systems for academic and social behavior, parenting groups, referral services, and case management services. Intervention options focus on three strategies:

  1. using incentives and encouragement to promote positive behavior change
  2. limit setting and limit monitoring
  3. family communication and problem-solving skills

Program activities are directed by parent consultants and can include parent group meetings, individual family meetings, as well as booster sessions, depending on the choices a family makes regarding services. Meetings and sessions may include discussion and practice of a targeted skill, group exercises (either oral or written, depending on group needs), role plays, and setting up home practice activities. Many of the skill-building exercises include activities for parents and children to complete together. Each curriculum also has six accompanying videotapes that demonstrate the program’s targeted skills and behaviors.

Program Theory
The curriculum for teens takes a social learning approach and concentrates on setting realistic goals for behavior change, defining reasonable steps to achieve goals, developing and providing peer support for prosocial and abstinent behavior, setting limits, and learning problem solving. Strategies targeting parents are based on research about the role of coercive parenting strategies in the development of youth problem behaviors.

Intervention ID

11 to 17


Study 1
Substance Use

Dishion and colleagues (2002) found that, by the first year of high school, Positive Family Support (PFS) was associated with a significant reduction in substance use initiation among at-risk and typically developing students, controlling for previous substance use in middle school. Students in the PFS treatment group reported significantly less substance use in grade nine than students in the control group.

Study 2
Substance Use and Antisocial Behavior

Connell and colleagues (2007) found intervention status was significantly related to all diagnostic outcomes. This means the PFS intervention group reported significantly less use of tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana compared with the control group. In addition, the intervention group exhibited significantly less antisocial behavior compared with the control group.

Intervention status was also significantly related to the number of arrests from grades six to eleven. The PFS intervention group had significantly fewer arrests compared with the control group.

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