Published Online: December 8, 1999
Published in Print: December 8, 1999, as Children & Families

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Fighting Apathy: Bringing parents, children, and professionals together as a team can significantly curb delinquency, reduce behavior problems in children, and increase their chances of success in school, according to a study of an award-winning program called fast, or Families and Schools Together.

The program, which is tailored to children ages 3 to 14 who are having trouble in school and at home, is featured in the November edition of Juvenile Justice Bulletin, published by the U.S. Department of Justice's office of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention. Families who enter FAST participate in eight to 10 weeks of school-based evening activities. The sessions include a family meal, singing, support meetings for parents, and age-appropriate activities for the children. A central aim of the program is to help parents "be both firmly in charge of and lovingly connected to their children."

The families attend monthly meetings, called FASTWORKS, for the next two years to solidify their relationships. "These relationships act as protective factors for at-risk youth and their families against the stresses of daily living," according to the bulletin.

FAST was developed in 1987 by Lynn McDonald, who worked at a nonprofit family-counseling agency in Madison, Wis., and is now a senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin's center for education research.

The program is used in 450 schools in 31 states and five countries.

FAST was recognized as an effective program at last year's White House conference on school safety and has received numerous awards.

Students are identified for the program—which costs about $1,200 per family for two years—by teachers, school administrators, and other professionals at the school.

Those students are often at least one grade level behind their peers and tend to be depressed, apathetic about school, and under stress. They also tend to be aggressive and have short attention spans.

Pretreatment and post-treatment evaluations of FAST, conducted in both Wisconsin and California, show a reduction in behavior problems, less withdrawal and isolation, and a greater ability to pay attention.

After eight weeks, parents of the students reported a 25 percent improvement at home, and teachers reported a 20 percent improvement at school.

FAST is supported by grants from private sources, including the DeWitt-Wallace Reader's Digest Fund and the Kraft Corp.

The report is on the Web at www.ncjrs.org/jjdp.htm#173 423.

--Linda Jacobson ljacobs@epe.org

Vol. 19, Issue 15, Page 6

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