Strengthening Families: 3 Key Ideas for Professionals 

February 11, 2016

Last month, SCAN held its second facilitator training for the Strengthening Families Program, this time with a focus on the curriculum for elementary aged children (6-11). Heather Eshleman and Larry Williams, from the Strengthening Families Foundation, led the two-day training, sharing their expertise and extensive experience with the program.

Here are our three main takeaways from the training:

1. The objective of the program is key.

IMG_0357 2The Strengthening Families Program came about to combat the reoccurrence of substance abuse that, unfortunately, tends to be passed on through the generations of a family. The way the program does this is through parent and child education with the philosophy (and the statistics to back it up) that active parenting is the best anti-drug measure out there.

There are certain risk factors that put children in danger of developing substance abuse problems down the road, such as family conflict, lack of supervision or discipline, and lack of communication. Evidence shows that even when families are in the most at-risk of environments, strong families can avoid many adverse outcomes. The Strengthening Families curriculum aims to mitigate risk factors by leading both parents and children in strengthening their “protective factors”. Facilitators work with parents to promote and improve family bonding, parental monitoring and discipline, communication between parents and children, and consistent and predictable parenting. Children, in turn, work to improve their resiliency, a trait shown to greatly help youth to do well and bounce back despite family/personal challenges or set-backs.

2. Focus on strengths.

IMG_2191.jpegStrengthening Families is a strength-based curriculum, so rather than finding the flaws and problems in a family and “fixing” them, group leaders look for the strengths a family already has and builds upon them. The class provides a welcoming, non-judgmental environment for parents and children to feel free to express themselves and share their problems and struggles as well as successes with the group. Group leaders are encouraged to facilitate open communication with participants. Rather than dogmatically dictating the “do’s and don’ts” of parenting, facilitators lead and model, teaching by example. They actively listen to parents and support them instead of castigating them, making suggestions and talking with them, not at them.

3. Staying true to the program makes a difference.

IMG_7851Strengthening Families is an evidence-based program that promises robust results. It has proven to effectively increase parent efficacy, parenting skills, and marital communication, as well as decrease stress, depression, and alcohol and drug use among parents. At the same time, due to the program, children have shown decreased depression, conduct disorders, aggression, use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and increased cooperation, social competencies, school grades, and forging of pro-social friendships.

While the evidence for the program is undeniable, training attendees learned that adaptations can make the program more effective but modifications break fidelity and do not guarantee the fantastic results promised. Adaptations are changes made by group leaders to get the skills taught to the particular people participating in the program; they make SFP a better fit to culture, age, local custom, religion or gender of class participants and they can help improve recruitment and retention rates by 40%. Modifications, on the other hand, such as dropping, adding or rearranging lessons, make fundamental changes to the program. As modifications essentially create a new program, their effectiveness is unknown and therefore, the program is no longer evidence-based.

– Alice Clark, Parent Education Coordinator
[email protected]

SCAN will partner with ACPS (FACE) this spring to offer the Strengthening Families Program for families with children aged 6-11 for the first time. We are so excited to begin the program after this dynamic and engaging training! For more information on the program please visit SCAN’s website or contact us directly!