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March 2019Vol. 20, No. 2Study Assesses Child, Parent Viewpoints on School-Based Prevention Support Program

An article in School Community Journal looks at both the child and parent perspectives of Families and Schools Together (FAST), a collaborative school-based program that seeks to prevent substance use, juvenile delinquency, school failure, mental health problems, and violence. The program provides multifamily prevention support to families of children ages 5-12 who have been identified by their schools as at risk of academic failure or social problems. The study, based on implementation in two communities, is the first to assess the child and parent perspectives of the program. The program involves schools, families, and community-based partners. It consists of 8 weeks of family sessions with a 2-year follow-up program to help improve family functioning, parent-child relationships, child behavior, and social connections while preventing substance use and school failure.

The first goal of the study was to look at child feedback on the "special play" aspect of FAST, and the second goal was to assess parental satisfaction. Special play is a core component of FAST where target children participate in one-on-one parent-mediated play during a 15-minute play period and their siblings, designated as nontarget children, have a supervised free-play period. Parents of the children designated as target children are instructed to pay attention to the child-initiated play without criticizing or controlling the play and to continue the special playtime between FAST sessions and over the subsequent 2 years. The authors were particularly interested in the child perspective on the special playtime, expecting that the siblings designated as nontarget children would react negatively to their exclusion. Instead, both the children designated as target and nontarget children reported benefits from participating in FAST.

The study is based on qualitative data from two central Virginia school communities, one urban and one rural. Results indicate that children designated as target children enjoyed most aspects of FAST, and they reported having better communication with their family, feeling closer, getting along better, and doing more together. They also reported having better relationships with their peers, choosing friends more wisely, and being better able to stand up to bullies. The siblings designated as nontarget children for the most part reported having closer relationships with their parents since participating in FAST, better family communication, and improved capacity for making and keeping friends. Parents reported having improved family relationships and a heightened awareness of the importance of family time and the availability of community resources. They cited special play, meeting new parents and families in similar circumstances, and spending quality time with family as the greatest benefits of FAST.

The study found that parent relationships with school personnel surprisingly remained unchanged after participating in FAST. The authors attribute this to the fact that the school partner, not teachers, carried out the administrative duties, such as sending reminders, collecting surveys, and assisting with the children while parents attended the parent group meetings. Local FAST team members noted that teachers were not integrated in a way that would affect the parent-teacher relationship, school involvement, or academic performance and classroom behavior. The authors suggest that since parental involvement at school has been linked to improved student outcomes, the program developers might want to consider how to engage school personnel with parents during the weekly FAST sessions.

"Child and Parent Voices on a Community-Based Prevention Program (FAST)," by Melodie Fearnow-Kenney, Patricia Hill, and Nicole Gore (School Community Journal, 2016) is available at (3,087 KB).