The Syracuse Family Development Research Program (FDRP) was a comprehensive early childhood program that aimed to develop child and family functioning through home visitation, parent training, and individualized day care. FDRP targeted economically disadvantaged families and sought to improve children’s cognitive and emotional functioning, reduce behavioral problems, and prevent juvenile delinquency. The program intended to support child and family functioning to sustain growth and development in a more permanent environment after the intervention ceased. Efforts included providing education, nutrition, health, safety, and human service resources to parents and children.
The FDRP population targeted predominantly young, African-American, single-parent, low-income, and low-education families. Specifically, program services were provided to 108 families in the 1970s, of which 85% were single parent heads of households with a mean age of 18 years. Mothers in the last trimester of their first or second pregnancy were also targeted for inclusion in the program.
The FDRP strategies focused on parent contact as the primary intervention, with child care as supplementary, based on the notion that supporting parent strategies would have long-term impacts on children’s development and assist families to meet life challenges. According to Lally and colleagues (1988), these objectives were shaped by the following five theoretical rationales:
- Piagetian equilibration theory. Piaget’s theory stresses the importance of active child participation in the construction of knowledge and the development of children’s abilities through the use of toys, materials, and human interactions.
- Language development theories. Child language abilities can be enhanced and developed through parent modeling, frequent book reading, responsiveness to infant babbles, and interactive turn-taking talk.
- Childhood development theories. Child development stages reflect a succession of positive emotional conflict resolution experiences. Some theories include a focused program concern on developing children’s learning, trust, and autonomy (Erikson, 1950).
- Theory of community organization. The theory of community organization incorporates parent feedback and interaction to empower community members. It is based on the idea that how FDRP personnel perceive their role in the intervention community is critical to the effectiveness of the program (Alinsky, 1979).
- Freedom of choice for children. Drawing from the British Infant School movement, FDRP drew on the notion that providing children with freedom of choice and a creative, spatial environment would support programmatic goals.
FDRP participants received individualized training and support from paraprofessional Child Development Trainers (CDTs) who made weekly home visits to each family before childbirth and until the child was five years old. Families were provided with child care for 50 weeks a year for the first five years of the children’s lives. Child care consisted of (a) one-half day care, five days a week from six months until 15 months; and (b) full day care, five days a week from 15 months of age until 60 months of age.
Day care services provided daily at the Syracuse University Children’s Center were designed to foster: freedom of choice, awareness of responsibility, confidence in the fairness and consistency of the environment, an emphasis on creativity, excitement and exploration in learning, expectations of internal motivation, and a safe, cheerful space.
Major program components included parent involvement, parent organization, Children’s Center activities, infant/caregiver interactions (infant-fold), family style education, and assessment.
- Parent involvement. The FDRP program viewed parents as the primary teachers and sustaining caregivers in their children’s lives. Home visits by CDTs focused on increasing family interaction, cohesiveness, and nurturing. Family problems (financial, emotional, social, and nutritional) were dealt with as they arose. CDTs provided language interactions and learning tasks appropriate to each child’s developmental level. They facilitated active family roles and observations to teach behavior modification, and provided positive reinforcement to enhance parental self-confidence and self-competence. CDTs also assisted families by providing neighborhood resource and nutrition information, transportation to and from meetings, and creating toy and book lending kits for parents to borrow.
- Parent organization. As the project progressed, parents met and formed formal and informal associations. The formal parent organization met monthly, elected officers, engaged in program advocacy, and reviewed project plans and events. Informally, many parents met to purchase food and supplies in bulk at reduced prices.
- Children’s Center Component. In the Children’s Center (for day care), infants were assigned to a caregiver for attention, cognitive and social games, sensorimotor activities, and language stimulation. The preschool program supported child-chosen opportunities for learning and peer interaction in a space-oriented framework, i.e., specific areas of the Center were designated for specific types of activities. Extensive staff and personnel training were also provided.
- Infant-Fold. Infants were assigned to a caregiver for attention, cognitive and social-interactive games, sensorimotor activities, and language stimulation. Caregivers worked in pairs with groups of no more than eight infants. Play materials were used to help children develop means-ends relationships, object permanence, causality, spatial concepts, and language. Caregivers used techniques such as praise and positive reinforcement. Children were encouraged to embed creativity in daily activities. Babies from 15 to 18 months were in a special transition group that offered a more varied program of sensorimotor activities.
- Family style education. Children from 18 months to five years of age were together daily in an environment structured into the following activities modules: (a) large-muscle area, (b) small-muscle area, (c) sense-perception area, and (d) creative expression and snack area. The idea was to support child-chosen opportunities for learning and peer interaction in a spatially-oriented structure, rather than time-oriented framework.
- Assessment. The FDRP program goals, activities, and staff roles were designed to permit evaluation of short and long term impacts of the intervention.
Key personnel included caregivers, child development trainers (CDTs), and supervisory staff (e.g. Project Director and Program Director).
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The follow-up longitudinal study by Lally, Mangione, and Honig (1988) followed the Syracuse Family Development Research Program (FDRP) students into their teen years to assess the program’s effects on school performance and juvenile delinquency.
The follow-up analysis of grade report data indicated that females in the program were significantly less likely than those in the control group to fail courses in school. By the eighth grade, 0 percent of the FDRP females had a failing average in school compared with 16 percent of control group females. By the eighth grade, 76 percent of the FDRP females versus 47 percent of control group females were performing at a C average or better. However, males in the program group continued to perform at a comparable level to males in the program group.
Poor school attendance was defined as having 20 or more absences from school. School attendance data over four years showed no statistically significant differences between treatment and control group females for the first two years. However, by year three, 14 percent of the FDRP females versus 50 percent of the control group females had more than 20 school absences during the previous year. By year four, 0 percent of the FDRP females versus 31 percent of the control group females had more than 20 school absences, which was significant. No significant differences were reported for males in the program and control groups.
Prosocial Attitudes and Behavior (Parent Report)
Substantially more FDRP program parents described their children as having prosocial attitudes (28 percent of program parents verses 10 percent of control group parents), although no significance test is reported.
Program youth were less likely to have records of delinquency or receive probation (6 percent of the program children versus 22 percent of the control children), although no significance test is reported. Offense severity, degree of chronicity, and cost of cases were also higher in the control group.
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