Child and Parent Voices on a Community-Based Prevention Program (FAST)

By Fearnow-Kenney, Melodie; Hill, Patricia et al. | School Community Journal, Spring/Summer 2016 | Go to article overview

Child and Parent Voices on a Community-Based Prevention Program (FAST)


Fearnow-Kenney, Melodie, Hill, Patricia, Gore, Nicole, School Community Journal


Introduction

Families and Schools Together (FAST) is a community-based, multifamily support program which begins with eight weeks of family sessions and then transitions into a two-year follow up segment called FASTWORKS (McDonald et al., 1997). The program involves families of children ages five to twelve who request participation or have been identified by their schools as being at risk for academic failure and social problems. Developed in 1988 by Dr. Lynn McDonald, FAST is based on well-known theories of family systems, child development, and risk resiliency. The primary goals of the program are to enhance family functioning, prevent substance abuse by the child and family, expand social relationships, increase parent involvement in school, improve parent-child relationships, prevent school failure, and improve child behavior (McDonald, Frank, & Price, 2006). FAST is backed by more than 15 years of evaluative research and has received recognition as an effective program from national organizations such as the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP, n.d.) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA, 2003).

FAST has earned the designation of an effective program due to years of research documenting its effectiveness across diverse populations. Recent studies have found it to be adaptable and effective with diverse cultural and ethnic groups such as European (McDonald, FitzRoy, Fuchs, Fooken, & Klasen, 2012), immigrant Latino (Guerra & Knox, 2008), low-income urban Latino (McDonald, Moberg, et al., 2006), and American Indian families and children (Kratochwill, McDonald, Levin, Bear-Tibbetts, & Demaray, 2004). The latest FAST evaluations have demonstrated program effects on important outcomes, namely, prevention of child aggressive behavior (Guerra & Knox, 2008; Knox, Guerra, Williams, & Toro, 2011), promotion of child prosocial behavior (Crozier, Rokutani, Russett, Godwin, & Banks, 2010), enhancement of parent-child communication (Knox et al., 2011), and reduction of family stress (Ackley & Cullen, 2010).

Evaluations of FAST, however, have not all demonstrated program success across all outcomes. For example, Knox and colleagues (2011) found no differences in aggression between FAST and control group children. Layzer, Goodson, Creps, Werner, and Bernstein (2001) observed no differences in teachers' report of positive changes in children who participated in FAST as compared to those in a control group, despite the fact that FAST parents reported improved behavior. In addition, there were few significant differences between FAST and control families in the year following completion of the program (Layzer et al., 2001). Moberg and colleagues (2003) conducted a two-year randomized trial of FAST and observed significant improvements in academic outcomes but few other significant differences between the FAST and control children.

When proven preventive interventions fail to produce anticipated program effects, evaluators often examine issues related to fidelity of implementation and consumer (participant) experience (e.g., Olds, Sadler, & Kitzman, 2007). Fidelity has been defined as the degree to which programs are implemented as program developers intended (e.g., Fagan et al., 2011). Programs differ in terms of how much of the program can be adapted and still retain a high degree of effectiveness. According to the program developers (McDonald et al., 2012), 60% of FAST can be adapted. Core components make up only 40% of the group processes, lending a fair amount of room for local adaptations. FAST teams are actually encouraged by the developers to adapt the program to the needs of the community they are serving as one way of respecting the cultural values of the participants. Therefore, a need exists for a systematic method of determining which, if any, adaptations should be made by FAST teams.

A few recent evaluations have attempted to address this need by collecting qualitative program feedback from FAST parents. …

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