FAST in Diverse Settings

FAST children and their families come from many ethnic, cultural, racial, and social class backgrounds, depending on the geographic setting and who the school decides to invite to FAST. Nationally, 51 percent of FAST participants have been Caucasian, 25 percent Latino, 23 percent African American, and 2 percent Asian and American Indian; 70 percent of the children have been low income and eligible for free or reduced-price lunches at school. FAST has had similar levels of impact across diverse groups of families; the program materials have been translated into French, German, Japanese, Spanish, and Vietnamese, and they have been used with multilingual, English as a Second Language (ESL) family groups. FAST has been found effective in rural, suburban, and inner-city schools in Australia, Austria, Canada, Germany, and 34 States and 3 Indian nations in the United States.

FAST mandates cultural comparability in both the program content and the rules of implementation; for example, teams have to "look" like the families they serve. FAST program certification requires that the team that facilitates the program and the families being served be similar in their ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

In addition, one-half of the activity-based program takes place at a family table, which means the parents "deliver services" to their own children. Thus, there is perfect cultural and language competency at each family table. FAST has no written or spoken curriculum, so literacy is not a requirement and language barriers do not restrict access to the program. Because learning about relationships and parenting occurs through a set of interactions, no translator is needed. FAST has been particularly successful at involving hard-to-reach, low-income families from diverse ethnic groups. Eighty percent of inner-city parents and American Indian parents on reservations who were willing to attend one FAST session have gone on to complete the program.

One Family's FAST Experience

Ten years ago, the first multifamily group graduated from an 8-week FAST cycle at Lowell Elementary School in Madison, WI. One of the mothers at that graduation ceremony and her two children had received a framed commendation from the principal for her family's involvement. She seemed proud that her achievement was being recognized.

Before participating in FAST, this woman was living on a low fixed income, had no car and no phone, had not completed high school, and was raising her two children alone. In addition, she had no friends, and she had never participated in a school event. Her own mother had passed away 8 months before, and when the parent advocate made the outreach home visit to invite the woman and her children to a multifamily group event at the school, the house appeared dark and without hope. She heard about the weekly family meal, the free transportation, and the family prize being offered, and because of the enthusiastic parent advocate who encouraged her to attend once to see if she liked it, she agreed to attend one FAST session (see table 2). She arrived at the first session with her children an hour late.

The second week, her children begged her to take them again to the multifamily activities because they were so much fun. The parent advocate returned to the house and drove the family to the school event in her own car. The woman and her children won the family prizes the second week, and the children were very excited about winning. Because the "winning family" is always asked to cook for everyone the week after having won, the mother was given money to plan, cook, and host the next meal for all of the families and the team. She told team members that the children asked her to cook a macaroni and cheese dish that was her own mother's family recipe. The meal was delicious, and the children were proud when everyone clapped and thanked their mother for her wonderful cooking.

The family attended each of the weekly meetings and participated fully to the end of the program. Just 8 weeks later, the woman laughed with her children, interacted comfortably with school personnel, and had befriended parents of other children at the school.

Over the next 4 years, this woman continued to participate actively in school-promoted activities. Two of the friendships she made in those first 8 weeks continued over time. The outreach and multifamily engagement process had a long-term positive effect on this family.

Since the FAST program began, teams have taken responsibility for carrying out and refining the recruitment and retention strategies for "hard to reach" parents. For example, a FAST team member (preferably the FAST parent graduate on the team) repeatedly visits or meets with the parent being recruited at nontraditional hours—not 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., but in the evenings or on weekends—on his or her terms. The team member explains FAST and invites the parent to attend just one session. The program also actively recruits participants by providing transportation, infant care, meals, and respect. Team members are trained to listen as parents discuss their children, to reflect their concerns using their own words, and to help parents understand that what their child is doing at home is similar to what the teacher says he or she is doing at school. Then the team members explain that FAST helps build the relationships from which children will benefit. They tell each parent that one time during the FAST program his or her family will win a large lottery and that the "winning" family in each session receives money to shop and cook for all of the participants the following week. The conversation with a team member teaches each parent that, by participating in the FAST program, he or she can both give and receive support in raising children.

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