1994 Finalist
Winners:
State of Wisconsin
1994
Publication:
Innovations in American Government Awards
Sponsored By:
Innovations in American Government Awards
Jurisdiction:
Wisconsin

The Families and Schools Together (FAST) program is an effort of the State of Wisconsin to address three related problems facing a number of children today: alcohol and drug abuse, violence and delinquency, and school dropout. FAST’s preventative strategy aims to address the root causes that often result in juvenile delinquency.

FAST’s efforts begin with the development of a family-support network, empowering the parent to be the primary prevention agent for their own child. FAST collaborates with schools, parents, and not-for-profit human services agencies to strengthen bonds in the family, the school, and the community. Children (ages 4-9), who display serious problems of non-empathic aggression, out of control behavior at home and at school, short attention span, hyperactivity, and poor self-esteem, are targeted by teachers for FAST’s multi-family programs.

Eight weekly meetings structure positive interactional experiences for families including a meal eaten as a family unit, a communication games session played at a family table, couples counseling, and a self-help parent group. Obstacles to voluntary attendance are systematically overcome with home visiting by ethnically matched staff, free transportation, infant and child care, a hot meal, and prizes. Two years of monthly multi-family follow-up meetings are run by parent graduate volunteers, with the collaborative team providing back-up support. Professionals become familiar to the whole family in this fun and informal setting, and are later sought after for services as needed.

Results after eight weeks show statistically significant improvements in the child's classroom behaviors, home behaviors, and self-esteem. Family closeness, parent involvement in school, and reduction in social isolation are also fostered through participation in the FAST program. Follow-up data suggest the children continue to improve and some parents self-refer for counseling, get jobs, go back to school, and attend community events. Six unrelated agencies of the federal government have independently identified FAST as a program model that works. The multilevel prevention curriculum applies decades of NIMH-funded and published research from psychology, psychiatry, family therapy, family stress, social support, and community organizing. A Democratic legislature and a Republican governor supported FAST to become a Wisconsin state initiative under the Anti-Drug Bill, AB 122, in 1990, for $1 million annually. Since 1993, Family Service America has trained FAST programs to operate in 14 states.