Meet the Founder: Dr. Lynn McDonald

Dr. Lynn McDonald is the creator of the internationally acclaimed family engagement program FAST® and the founder of the non-profit organization Families & Schools Together.

Throughout a career that spans more than 40 years, Dr. McDonald has worked tirelessly to improve the well-being of children and families around the world using scientific research to build a family strengthening program proven to bring about life-changing outcomes.

When Dr. McDonald launched FAST in 1988, it was one of the first prevention/early intervention programs to develop practical applications for mental health and family theory research findings. “As a scientist and educator, I was teaching things to college students that I very much thought would benefit people in the community,” she explains. “I had worked as a clinical social worker and I was a mother raising my own children, so I keenly understood how parents and child development professionals needed practices that truly worked to give children the best possible start in life.”

This realization prompted Dr. McDonald to do what she’d always done. “I began reading and researching, and I found there was a huge gap between what was known in the academic world and what was happening in the everyday lives of families,” she says. “I began to apply what I was learning with my own children to see what worked in my own ‘laboratory’ at home. It was the start of building a program that I knew would help children grow into the fullest expression of themselves.”

Dr. McDonald’s own childhood experiences also influenced the foundations of FAST. “My father’s work for the U.S. government took our family all over the world. By the time I graduated from high school, I had attended 12 schools in five different countries,” she relates. Her experiences growing up in Germany, France, Turkey, Egypt and the United States instilled respect for people of diverse backgrounds. “Having lived in many countries, I know that families and children are key to every society. And I know because I have seen it, that parents everywhere love their children and want the very best for them.”

This unwavering belief in parents’ ability to be the primary caregivers of their children has remained a constant FAST Value, yet the program continues to evolve. FAST has been run in 20 countries around the world, has an 80% retention rate, one of the highest among early intervention parenting skills programs – especially among low-income, stressed and isolated parents, and produces statistically significant improvements in children’s academic performance, behavior and emotional well-being.

Dr. McDonald was a philosophy major at Oberlin College in the 1960s, and then earned a Master’s Degree in Social Work at the University of Maryland-Baltimore, where she studied many approaches to family therapy and social change, including traditional casework, family systems, group session management and community organizing. In 1976, Dr. McDonald was awarded a PhD in Psychology from the School of Social Sciences from University of California-Irvine – a unique cross-disciplinary approach to research. Dr. McDonald is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and an American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) Certified Family Therapist.

Dr. McDonald began her professional career as a Psychiatric Social Worker with the University of California-Los Angeles Neuropsychiatric Institute, where she began to pursue what would become a lifelong passion: applying research findings to create solutions for the real-life challenges faced by children and families. Dr. McDonald then moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where she launched a 22-year career working as a Researcher with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, as well as an Assistant Professor of Social Work, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In 2008, Dr. McDonald joined Middlesex University, London, as a Professor of Social Work Research and worked there until September 2016 when she retired and moved back to Madison. During this time, she also worked on the Investing in Family Engagement (i3) Project in the School District of Philadelphia. Even in retirement, she continues to work with Families & Schools Together on a consulting basis.

Dr. McDonald is the mother of two grown children and grandmother of four children.

Written by Lynn 📝