Numerous research articles provide evidence supportive of the FAST® Program’s effectiveness in urban and rural schools and communities with diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. This section contains select published studies and papers written by FAST Founder Dr. Lynn McDonald and fellow peer investigators.

The Development and Sustainability of School-Based Parent Networks in Low-Income Latinx Communities: A Mixed-Methods Investigation


David E. Rangel, Megan N. Shoji, Adam Gamoran

Research suggests that school-based parent networks have significant benefits for children’s education, yet scholars know very little about how such relation- ships form and develop over time. This study uses interview and survey data with elementary school parents in predominantly low-income Latinx commu- nities to examine how parents meet one another; how deeper, more trusting relationships develop; and how the size and quality of parent networks change over time in the presence and absence of a family engagement program. Interview data suggest few and infrequent opportunities for parents to meet one another, which makes building relationships characterized by trust and shared expectations more difficult. The quantitative results show positive short-term effects of the program but differential effects over time.

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Reducing Children’s Behavior Problems through Social Capital: A Causal Assessment


Ruth N. Lopez Turley, Adam Gamoran, Alyn Turner McCarty, Rachel Fish

Behavior problems among young children have serious detrimental effects on short and long-term educational outcomes. An especially promising prevention strategy may be one that focuses on strengthening the relationships among families in schools, or social capital. However, empirical research on social capital has been constrained by conceptual and causal ambiguity. This study attempts to construct a more focused conceptualization of social capital and aims to determine the causal effects of social capital on children’s behavior. Using data from a cluster randomized trial of 52 elementary schools, we apply several multilevel models to assess the causal relationship, including intent to treat and treatment on the treated analyses. Taken together, these analyses provide stronger evi- dence than previous studies that social capital improves children’s behavioral outcomes and that these improvements are not simply a result of selection into social relations but result from the social relations themselves.

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A Social Ecological, Relationship-based Strategy for Parent Involvement: FAST (Families and Schools Together)


Lynn McDonald, Hannah Miller, Jen Sandler

A large randomised controlled trial of 52 urban schools with an average of 73 per cent Latino students situated in disadvantaged neighbourhoods in the USA has data to examine the impact of this strategy on parent involvement. Parents of all first-grade students (age 6 or 7) at schools assigned either to Families and Schools Together (FAST) or services-as-usual were invited to participate. At schools with the social ecological strategy universal invites were made to those in the study to attend any one of eight weekly multi-family group sessions offered after-school at the building. Trained teams were culturally representative of the families (language, ethnicity) and made up of local parents and professionals; each team hosted up to ten families in a hub for two and a half hours (83 families attended at one session). Parents were socially included, treated with respect, coached by the team to lead a family meal, singing, family crafts and games at a family table. Parent time (respite) was provided with chat-time in pairs, followed by parent-led discussion groups. Parents were coached in one to one time, “child-led” responsive play for 15 minutes. Findings – Parent involvement data showed that on average, 43.6 per cent of all first-graders’ families (an average of 44 families per school) attended at least one session; of those, who attended at least one session, 69 per cent returned for another. On average, of those families who attended at least once, the average family went four times; an average of 22 families per school attended six or more sessions. Parent graduates led monthly booster sessions open to all families. In half of the families, both fathers and mothers attended; immigrant parents attended statistically significantly more than native-born ones. In surveys, more parents in schools with FAST vs control reported attending three or more events at school.

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Bayesian Causal Mediation Analysis for Group Randomized Designs with Homogeneous and Heterogeneous Effects: Simulation and Case Study


Soojin Park, David Kaplan

A fully Bayesian approach to causal mediation analysis for group-randomized designs is pre- sented. A unique contribution of this article is the combination of Bayesian inferential methods with G-computation to address the problem of heterogeneous treatment or mediator effects. A detailed simulation study shows that this approach has excellent frequentist properties, partic- ularly in the case of small sample sizes with accurate informative priors. The simulation study also demonstrates that the proposed approach can take into account heterogeneous treatment or mediator effects without bias. A case study using data from a school-based randomized intervention designed to increase parent social capital leading to improved behavioral and aca- demic outcomes in children is offered to illustrate the Bayesian approach to causal mediation in group-randomized designs.

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The Emergence of Social Capital in Low-income Latino Elementary Schools


Megan N. Shoji, Anna R. Haskins, David E. Rangel, Kia N. Sorensen, Carmen R. Valdez

Scholars suggest that racial/ethnic and class disparities in school-based social capital contribute to educational inequalities. Previous studies demonstrate that social capital (relations of trust, mutual expectations, and shared values) between parents and schools supports children’s development. Yet we know little about the emergence of social capital, that is, the processes through which it develops. In this study, we explore mechanisms of social capital emergence in predominantly low-income Latino school communities. We draw data from an experimental study that manipulated social capital through an after-school family engagement program. Based on interviews and focus groups with participating parents, teachers, and program staff in two elementary schools, we identified four types of interactions that act as mechanisms of social capital emergence: (1) responsive communication; (2) reciprocal com- munication; (3) shared experiences; and (4) institutional linkage. The article connects these mechanisms to theoretically linked sources of social capital and discusses implications for theory and practice.

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Reducing School Mobility: A Randomized Trial of a Relationship-building Intervention


Jeremy E. Fiel, Anna R. Haskins, Ruth N. Lopez Turley

Student turnover has many negative consequences for students and schools, and the high mobility rates of disadvantaged students may exacerbate inequality. Scholars have advised schools to reduce mobility by building and improving relationships with and among families, but such efforts are rarely tested rigorously. A cluster-randomized field experiment in 52 predominantly Hispanic elementary schools in San Antonio, TX, and Phoenix, AZ, tested whether student mobility in early elementary school was reduced through Families and Schools Together (FAST), an intervention that builds social capital among families, children, and schools. FAST failed to reduce mobility overall but substantially reduced the mobility of Black students, who were especially likely to change schools. Improved relationships among families help explain this finding.

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UNODC Global Family Skills Initiative: Outcome evaluation in Central Asia of Families and Schools Together (FAST) multi-family groups


Lynn McDonald, Taghi Doostgharin

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Global Family Skills Initiative reviewed hundreds, and then recommended 23 evidence based programmes (2010). UNODC invited FAST (Families and Schools Together) to be piloted in Central Asia, and funded the cultural adaptation teams, translations, trainings, implementations, supervisions and evaluations. Outcome evaluation results are summarized of FAST multi-family groups offered at 9 primary schools in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. FAST is a complex, multi-systemic intervention which aims to build protective factors across the child’s social ecology to enhance resilience against stress and promote child well-being. Pre- post data were collected from parents and teachers on child mental health (SDQ), family functioning (FES), parent reciprocity in social networks, and parent involvement in school. 190 families of children (age 7) attended 8 weekly sessions. Trained teams of local teachers and parents were encouraged to locally adapt 60% of the processes for a cultural fit, while following a manual of core programme components. SPSS analyses used one-tailed, paired t-tests and showed improved outcomes. Discussion of results includes the high retention rates of 100%.

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Differences Between Hispanic and Non-Hispanic Families in Social Capital and Child Development: First-year Findings from an Experimental Study


Adam Gamoran, Ruth N. Lopez Turley, Alyn Turner, Rachel Fish

Disadvantages faced by Hispanic children in the U.S., compared to non-Hispanic Whites, have been widely reported. Economic differences account for some of the gaps, but the social isolation of Hispanic families also serves as a barrier to children’s success. Whereas Hispanic families tend to have strong kinship networks, their social ties often do not encompass the school and other authority systems. As a result, Hispanic families may have less access to social capital, that is, relations of trust and shared expectations that foster the flow of relevant information and support social norms that contribute to children’s academic and social development. To study the role of social capital in child development, we embarked on a school-randomized trial in two cities with large Hispanic populations: San Antonio, Texas, and Phoenix, Arizona. In this paper, we report on first-year data from what will be a three-year longitudinal study, including 24 of an eventual 52 schools and about 1300 of what will be a sample of over 3000 children. We aimed to manipulate social capital through an intervention called Families and Schools Together (FAST), a multi-family after- school program that enhances relations among families, between parents and schools, and between parents and children through a sequence of structured activities over 8 weekly sessions. In the first year, 12 schools were randomly assigned to participate in FAST, and 12 served as controls. Data come from district administrative records, surveys of parents prior to FAST, and surveys of parents and teachers immediately after FAST. Surveys prior to FAST confirm that Hispanic parents have less extensive parent–school networks compared to non-Hispanic Whites. Comparisons of school means on post-FAST surveys indicate that parents in FAST schools experience more extensive social networks than those in control schools, but the differences are much more apparent in Phoenix than in San Antonio. Similarly, a pattern of better behavioral outcomes for children in FAST schools is evident in Phoenix but not San Antonio. Individual-level comparisons suggest that for some outcomes, effects may be larger for non-Hispanic Whites than for Hispanics, which would undermine potential contributions to reducing inequality.

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Families and Schools Together: An Experimental Study of Multi-family Support Groups for Children at Risk


Thomas R. Kratochwill, Lynn McDonald, Joel R. Levin, Phyllis A. Scalia, Gail Coover

We evaluated a multi-family support group intervention program in elementary schools. Kindergarten through third-grade children at eight urban schools in a Midwestern university community were universally invited to participate in the Families and Schools Together (FAST) program, and made up half of the study participants; the other half were K-3 children identified by teachers as having behavioral problems and being at risk for referral to special education services. Children were initially paired on the basis of five relevant matching variables, including teacher assessment of behavioral problems, and then randomly assigned to either ongoing school services (control) or the FAST program. Parents and teachers completed pre-, post-, and 1-year follow-up assessments. Data were available and analyzed for 67 pairs. Immediate follow-up parent reports showed that FAST students declined less on a family adaptability measure relative to control group students. This effect was still present at the 1-year follow-up assessment. In addition, FAST parents reported statistically significant reductions in children’s externalizing (aggressive) behaviors, as compared to the reports of control group parents. School district data showed descriptively fewer special-education referrals for FAST children (one case) as compared with control group children (four cases). Results are discussed in relation to future research on universal prevention programs.

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Families and Schools Together: An Experimental Analysis of a Parent-mediated Multi-family Group Program for American Indian Children


Thomas R. Kratochwill, Lynn McDonald, Joel R. Levin, Holly Young Bear-Tibbetts, Michelle K. Demaray

The goals of this randomized intervention study were to: (a) increase academic performance among American Indian children ages 4–9 years and (b) reduce classroom problem behaviors. To achieve these goals, the multi-family group program called Families and Schools Together (FAST) was adapted with three American Indian Nations in Wisconsin. Over 3 years, seven multi-family group cycles of FAST were implemented, each lasting 8 weeks. In collaboration with the College of Menominee Nation, this parent intervention approach was adapted to express tribal values while maintaining its core components. Fifty pairs of universally recruited American Indian students at three schools who were assessed, matched on five variables, and then randomly assigned to either the FAST or non-FAST control condition. Pretest, posttest, and 9- to 12-month follow-up data were collected by American Indian staff and university students on multiple indicators of academic and behavioral performance. Of the 50 families that attended FAST meetings at least once, 40 graduated (80%) from the 7 FAST cycles. On the immediate posttest, statistically significant differences in improvement, favoring FAST participants were found on the Aggressive Behavior scale of the teacher-rated Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) and on the parent-rated Withdrawn scale of the same instrument. On the 1-year follow-up assessment, parent CBCL ratings indicated that FAST students had maintained their less withdrawn status and teacher ratings on the Social Skills Rating Scale (SSRS) revealed that FAST participants had exhibited relatively greater improvement in their academic competence. Parent surveys of the graduated students generally showed satisfaction with the program. Implications of the present results and future research directions are discussed.

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