Strong school and family ties have long shown success in influencing positive child development and lasting academic success. While a multitude of programs exist to help facilitate the school-family connection, one program in particular, Families and Schools Together, or FAST, stands out as an effective prevention program that is suitable for a number of diverse populations. This article adds to the growing body of literature on the effectiveness of FAST. This study of the implementation and evaluation of the Kids FAST and FASTWORKS programs over multiple years in a large metropolitan area of Virginia was conducted using existing data collected from individual program sites over the course of 35 months (Spring 2005 to Winter 2007), analyzed in aggregate using quantitative methods as prescribed in the FAST evaluation protocol. Few FAST program site results are analyzed in aggregate, even though this method is encouraged by the FAST developers. Thus, previous evaluation of individual program sites yielded mixed results. Analyzed in aggregate, families graduating from multiple sites of FAST programs were shown to make significant gains on most measures. These results indicate positive outcomes and can provide insight for program improvements as well as support for continuing to use the FAST program in the Virginia Beach City Public Schools and in similar sites. Limitations of this study and suggestions for future research are discussed.
Key Words: Families and Schools Together, FAST, family, systems, theory, prevention, community partnerships, evaluations, collaboration, evaluations, parents, education, programs, risks, social capital, quantitative, aggregate
Introduction and Background
Developed in 1988 by Dr. Lynn McDonald, the FAST program was designed as a preventive program for at-risk children aimed at improving family functioning, thereby strengthening child resiliency. Today, FAST is offered to both intervention and prevention populations with its blend of "family therapy principles, delinquency and substance abuse prevention strategies, psychiatric techniques, family systems theory, and group dynamics" (Sass, 1999, p. 2). As a universal prevention program that targets the family and school domains, FAST uses developmentally sound approaches to help bolster family functioning and reduce risk factors such as school failure, violence, delinquency, substance abuse, and family stress (Terrion, 2006). Fast is a multisession group for families of elementary school children to increase parental skills and family well-being with the objective of preventing risks (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA], 2008). FAST has been credited with meeting the needs of all socioeconomic, racial, or geographical groups making it a successful universal program (FAST, n.d. a). In addition, different FAST curricula have been developed to meet the needs of specific target populations including: Baby FAST, Pre-K FAST, Kids FAST, Middle School FAST, and Teen FAST.
As a parent education process, FAST consists of numerous components and activities designed through the logic model to meet its ambitious goals. The components, which add rigor and effectiveness, include the selection procedure, structured group education and activities for multiple families, assessments, and follow up via FASTWORKS. The primary program goals are to enhance family functioning, prevent school failure, prevent substance abuse in parents and children, and reduce stress in parents and children (FAST, n.d. b; McDonald & Ziege, 2003). McDonald understood that resilient families with skillful communication strategies and social support were less vulnerable to risk factors such as school failure, substance abuse, delinquency, and violence (FAST, n.d. a). Research by Hawkins, Catalano, and Miller (1992) supports the premise of FAST. It has been demonstrated that by increasing protective factors, such as family management practices, parent to child and parent to parent bonding, connections with community agencies, and commitment to school, behaviors in children such as substance abuse and school underachievement or dropout can be mitigated (FAST, n. …