The Research-Based Process

The FAST program incorporates elements from studies that combined scientific rigor with straightforward common sense (see table 2). Research and evaluation are vital parts of the FAST process:

  • In the FAST team training, all FAST team members (not family participants in the program) are required to read through a summary of the research studies that underlie each FAST activity and then to discuss the studies as a team. By doing so, team members learn exactly how the FAST intervention is based on research. This helps them to respect, rather than try to alter, the activities of the program.

  • Each certified FAST team trainer must be able to present the original studies and to read current research journal articles, discuss them, and relate them to the FAST process.

  • Each new FAST site is evaluated with the McDonald and Billingham Process and Outcome FAST Evaluation Package (for more information, see "Role of the Team Trainer" on page 10) (McDonald and Billingham, 1998). Team Trainers, who make three onsite observation visits and complete assessment forms for each multifamily program, conduct the process evaluation. The FAST National Training and Evaluation Center collects and analyzes the data. The Center submits a final report based on statistical tests on standardized instruments that describes the program's impact on children's mental health and family functioning in each new FAST community.

Longitudinal Research Supporting FAST

Professionals who routinely work with delinquent youth need to understand that what happens early in a child's life could predict the tough, violent, drug-abusing, antisocial behaviors displayed by youth in the juvenile justice system. However, longitudinal research studies that follow individuals for 15 to 30 years support the importance of childhood experiences and of parent involvement in helping predict adult behavior. Knowledge about this research into the sources of delinquent behavior enables practitioners to address risk factors before problem behavior begins. Two key studies are summarized below.

Werner and Smith (1992) studied all the babies (about 600) on an island of Hawaii and followed them from birth to age 30 to determine who was incarcerated as an adult. The researchers collected data about the children, their psychology, their education, and their families. They learned that 23 percent of the youth were identified at age 10 as "troublemakers" by teachers and parents, 13 percent were adjudicated delinquent by age 18, and 4 percent were jailed as adult criminals by age 30. After determining who was incarcerated by age 30, Werner and Smith performed many statistical analyses of the 30 years of data they had collected. Because they knew the outcomes for particular members of the original population, they were able to identify which significant factors were correlated with violence, delinquency, and criminality. Early childhood experiences of trauma, child abuse, and poverty were risk factors for adolescent and adult criminal behavior. Having just one positive, long-term relationship with a parent, family member, or community member (e.g., a friend, neighbor, minister, teacher, or mentor) to whom one could talk about stress could override the risk factors. Werner and Smith identified feeling loved by parents and being able to communicate with and confide in an adult about difficult topics as protective factors that can outweigh risk factors and help at-risk youth. They found that strong relationships with an adult had the potential to help at-risk youth avoid incarceration as adults. Their findings have extremely important implications for treatment, intervention, and prevention.

Schedler and Block, at the University of California-Berkeley, studied and followed a group of youth ages 3 to 18 (1990). They noted which 18-year-olds abused alcohol and drugs and which did not. Schedler and Block then went back to look at early data they had collected, which included videotapes of mothers playing with their 7-year-olds. They reported many early factors that predicted outcome, including the mothers' styles of play with their children. Warm and supportive mother's play was a protective factor, and hostile, critical, and bossy mother's play was a risk factor significantly correlated with later substance abuse by youth. Positive parent involvement with the child predicted long-term positive outcomes. On the basis of their research, Schedler and Block recommend early relationship-building interventions with families as a system, rather than in programs only for youth, to increase the likelihood that young children will avoid undesirable outcomes of substance abuse.

Cross-Sectional Research Supporting FAST

A family graduating from the first FAST implementation in Australia.
A family graduating from the first FAST implementation in Australia.
In a recent article on adolescents, Michael Resnick and colleagues (1997) reported on a study of more than 12,000 high school youth. They interviewed youth about their violent behavior, delinquency, substance abuse, and school failure. The researchers' analysis determined that two crucial factors were significantly associated with a youth staying out of trouble: connections between parents and youth and positive associations with school.

David Hawkins studies the relationship of risk and protective factors for thousands of middle school children (Pollard, Hawkins, and Arthur, in press) and notes that if a youth had more than five risk factors, there was a strong likelihood that he or she had, at most, one protective factor. Hawkins reported that these high-risk youth never had two or more protective factors and they often lacked even one. He encouraged interventionists to develop programs that offer opportunities for interactive, personal, positive relationship building to increase protective factors for at-risk youth and reduce negative outcomes in youth. Two examples of the intervention research applied by the FAST program are described below.

Intervention Research Applied in FAST

Dr. James Alexander of the Department of Psychology at the University of Utah developed a research-based intervention called Functional Family Therapy for use with delinquent youth (Alexander and Parsons, 1982). Alexander's family therapy research worked closely with the courts and randomly assigned first-time court offenders to his approach and contrasted it with several other approaches. His family therapy interventions with families of delinquent youth involved changing how the families interacted with one another (e.g., using communication training, including problem solving, listening, and taking turns speaking). When Alexander and Parsons did 3-year followups with court data, they found that the recidivism rates of the family therapy youth were half those of youth who received the routine array of available services (Alexander and Parsons, 1982). In addition, after the intervention, the siblings of the delinquents in the study's treatment group were also followed; they were half as likely as siblings of control group youth to get involved in the court system as delinquents. Some findings of Alexander's study are integrated into FAST family communication activities.

Kate Kogan's work at the Department of Child Psychiatry, University of Washington (1978, 1980; Vann and Kogan, 1979), included intervention with behaviorally and psychiatrically disturbed children ages 2 to 8 in which she supervised a structured play activity of one-on-one time between parent and child. Kogan placed the parent and child alone together in a room with toys and put a small listening device in the parent's ear. She then coached the parent-child interactions through a microphone while observing from the other side of a one-way mirror. She watched for parental behaviors that were too bossy or too critical, urging parents to show interest in the child's play and to let the child lead the play. Kogan found that children's well-being and anxiety or behavior problems dramatically improved when they had nonjudgmental, nondirective, repeated playtime with a parent. In addition, such playtime strengthened the relationship between parent and child. Applying both Kogan's and Alexander's research, FAST works to intervene early in a child's life by offering opportunities for families to communicate and play together in positive ways.

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