Like most activities that are worthwhile and result in long-term change, implementing Families & Schools Together’s evidence-based parent engagement program, FAST®, can take significant resources — time, money, and staff. Fortunately, you and your school don’t have to do it all yourself. Many successful FAST implementations at schools and districts across the U.S., and even abroad, are championed by a community-based partner, or local nonprofit organization. Most often, community organizations best understand the needs of the community and have the infrastructure to support collaborative initiatives.
These partnerships have yielded successful outcomes for families, schools and communities, and offer a number of benefits, including:
Funding: Community organizations often support the procurement of funding for FAST. The majority of these organizations are 501(c)(3) nonprofits, and are allowed to accept and administer local, state, national and/or federal funds earmarked for funding priorities in which schools or districts may not qualify. For example, community-based organizations generally serve as the fiscal agent when applying for grant funding and will partner with schools to implement the FAST Program to help improve academic outcomes, increase parent engagement and social capital, and prevent substance abuse.
Support: Additionally, the community partner helps to take the lead in carrying out the logistics of FAST programming, and brings invaluable local professionals (e.g. mental health or substance abuse counselors) who serve as informal case managers to participating families. “Historically, when a school and community-based partner collaborate to bring FAST to its community, the organization spearheads the implementation while working closely with the school,” says Molly McGowan, FAST’s Implementation Manager. “The organization typically manages the budget and distributes funds for programmatic support, provides a community partner to be a member of the FAST Team, connects families to community resources, and handles logistics, such as ordering supplies and submitting the evaluations. This allows the school to focus on supplying space to implement the program, recruiting families, and providing a school-based partner.”
Strength in Numbers: Research has shown the benefits of programs that are implemented within a coalition of collaborating organizations. Programs with strong networks tend to be more sustainable and provide a more supportive web for families, ultimately enhancing impact. For more information on coalitions, see this article, Building Coalitions, on the FAST Blog.
A Track Record of Success: One example of a successful community-school FAST partnership is the Family and Children First Council (FCFC) of Cuyahoga County, Ohio. The county first implemented FAST in 2002 and in 2015, they received a Best Practices in Sustainability Award from Families & Schools Together, Inc. “Currently, the county ranks first among all Elementary School FAST users in the number of sites and cycles,” says Molly. “Through the years, they have served around 2,500 families at 57 schools in Cuyahoga County. This spring, they are running FAST in 15 schools.”
FCFC is currently funded by Cuyahoga County, in partnership with the Cuyahoga County Council and the Together We Thrive initiative which promotes the economic well-being and prosperity of the county and all of its residents. According to FCFC, the county uses FAST within a child’s school to achieve four goals: enhance family functioning; prevent children from failing in school; prevent substance abuse by the child and other family members; and reduce the stress that parents and children feel in daily life situations.
Data collected from 2012-2016 from schools in Cuyahoga County, partnering with FCFC to run FAST, reveal that parent engagement has increased by 56%, and parent-school contact has increased by 40%, as reported by both parents and teachers. Parents reported a 60% increase in total social support, and a 62% increase in community relationships. Child problem behavior improved by approximately 40%, according to the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire.
Beyond these broad goals, FAST had made an impact on individual lives within Cuyahoga County. After participating in the program, a former Parent Partner who served on a FAST Team wrote: “What also resonated with me through this experience [going through FAST] was my sense of strength within my community. I went from being a new divorcee in a new community, not connected with the school or any of the other parents, feeling alone. After our experiences, we now have a complete network of friends that I could genuinely count on. My girls have made friends, too, that we see outside of school often.”
Collaborating with a community-based organizations to implement FAST will benefit the families, schools, and the community at-large. In the upcoming months, Families & Schools Together will continue to share information about how schools can begin to formulate or strengthen community-school partnerships.