Identifying Candidates for FAST

The school principal, teachers, and pupil services teams screen students for indicators of mental health problems to identify children who could greatly benefit from FAST. Many schools also ask teachers to survey their classrooms for troublemakers, bullies, or others who are hard to teach. Typical FAST children are at least 1 year behind their expected grade level. In addition, the children tend to be apathetic, hypersensitive, depressed, under high stress, and subject to family trauma. Based on data on youth who entered the program in 53 schools in 13 States, the typical FAST child is male (65 percent), 8 years old, and shows significant problem behaviors in the classroom and at home (85 percent), as rated by teachers and parents. The average FAST child exhibits a tendency toward bullying and aggressive behavior, is very anxious and withdrawn, has a very short attention span, and shows uneven classroom performance. These attributes in an 8-year-old predict teenage delinquency and violence (Ensminger, Kellam, and Rubin, 1983; Kellam et al., 1991; Starfield et al., 1993). Longitudinal studies have shown that 8-year-old children who are socially isolated but aggressive are more likely to end up in detention as teenagers for violent and delinquent acts. Other studies show that classroom aggressiveness in first grade predicts aggressiveness in seventh grade, unless there is an intervention (Kellam et al., 1998). FAST applies this research by intervening early with students who have been identified as at risk by teachers. Research shows that teachers can spot 8-year-olds who, without intervention, are 10 times more likely than their peers to spend time in jail later in life (Gullotta, Adams, and Montemayor, 1998).

Next, families of the identified students are invited to voluntarily participate in the multifamily group process. Many schools that serve primarily low-income populations offer universal invitations to all school children and families, to avoid singling out some children as "at risk." Because of local control, each school makes a decision about which groups of youth and families it invites to any particular multifamily 8- to 10-week cycle. For example, a school may target students who are bullies; truants; low achievers; low-income children who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches at school (Title I children); highly mobile, new residents of poverty-stricken areas; or recent immigrants to the United States. Families can also ask to participate in the program; some schools decide to take only self-referrals.

Families and Schools Together: Building Relationships Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  November 1999