Overview of the Program
Both affluent and low-income families struggle with the same issues concerning how to raise a child successfully. Many parents feel alone, too busy to connect with their children, and lacking in support from other adults. Using parent-professional collaborative teams, the Families and Schools Together (FAST) program systematically reaches out to entire families and organizes multifamily groups to increase parent involvement with at-risk youth. Developed in 1987 by Dr. Lynn McDonald of Family Service, a nonprofit family counseling agency in Madison, WI, FAST helps at-risk youth (ages 3 to 14) build relationships through a research- and family therapy-based, multifamily group approach to preventing juvenile delinquency (McDonald, 1993, 1997; 1998; McDonald and Billingham, 1998; McDonald et al., 1991). FAST has been especially successful at involving low-income, stressed, and isolated parents.
For several years, the founder of FAST conducted court-ordered, in-home, family therapy with drug- and alcohol-involved and violent youth who had been significantly involved in the court system. She applied family therapy techniques for delinquents that were developed, researched, and published by James Alexander, Ph.D. (1973; Alexander and Parsons, 1973, 1982) and Salvador Minuchin, M.D. (1979). Using these approaches, 75 percent of delinquent youth could alter their circumstances in 3 months of two to three family sessions per week, with 24-hour backup coverage (McDonald, 1993). This therapeutic work developed into the FAST program for early intervention. The FAST program works with school teachers to identify elementary school children about whom they have developmental or behavioral concerns.
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 including adolescent delinquency, violence, addiction, and dropping out of school. The FAST process utilizes the existing strengths of families, schools, and communities in creative partnerships. 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 builds and enhances long-term relationships to provide youth a "social safety net" of protective factors for getting through difficult times. Specific aspects of the FAST program reduce common forms of delinquent behavior because:
FAST works with every kind of family. Because the program respects how each family defines itself, there are no restrictions for admission into the program. The FAST process begins with home visits, followed by a weekly series of school-based evening activities for 12 families (for 8-10 weeks), followed by 2 years of monthly multifamily FASTWORKS meetings. These meetings are run by paid FAST parent graduates (and supported by FAST team members) to consolidate and maintain interpersonal relationships developed during the weekly sessions.
The team structure ensures that parents are included as partners. The certification of each new program site includes a public interview with several parent graduates in front of their FAST team to give feedback on their experience in the program.