The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is dedicated to preventing and reversing trends of increased delinquency and violence among adolescents. These trends have alarmed the public during the past decade and challenged the juvenile justice system. It is widely accepted that increases in delinquency and violence over the past decade are rooted in a number of interrelated social problems— child abuse and neglect, alcohol and drug abuse, youth conflict and aggression, and early sexual involvement—that may originate within the family structure. The focus of OJJDP’s Family Strengthening Series is to provide assistance to ongoing efforts across the country to strengthen the family unit by discussing the effectiveness of family intervention programs and providing resources to families and communities.
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 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.
Youth at risk of adolescent delinquency often come from stressed and socially isolated families. These children also frequently fail in school and may eventually drop out. This Bulletin profiles a program, Families and Schools Together (FAST) that brings at-risk children and their families together in multifamily groups to strengthen families and increase the likelihood that children will succeed at home, at school, and in the community. Based on research and family therapy, FAST builds protective factors for children and increases parent involvement with the family, other parents, the school, and the community. In a typical case, the entire family of an 8-year-old male who exhibits problem behaviors at home and at school participates in the 8-week FAST program. After “graduating,” families move on to 2 years of monthly meetings of a school based group of FAST families, which provide a strong social network to fall back on in times of crisis. Evaluations have shown that FAST has a statistically significant positive impact on children and families.