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Research: Families in Action p. 2/7

Implementation and Impact
of a Family-Based Substance Abuse Prevention Program
in Rural Communities

Page 2

Published in The Journal of Primary Prevention, Vol 18, No. 3, 1998


The FIA program is a structured program designed for parents and their children who are entering junior high or middle school. The program was offered each fall, winter, and spring in eight participating junior high and middle schools in a three-county area of rural northeastern lower Michigan. The program was comprised of six 2.5-hour sessions, offered once a week for six consecutive weeks. Sessions were typically held in school classrooms on weekday evenings. Group size consisted of anywhere from five to 12 families.

Two to three times each year, FIA graduates and other families within the target age group were invited to participate in evening family reunions. These typically included a pizza dinner, social time and an education and skill-building session. Topics were selected based upon the suggestions of program graduates. The entire family was encouraged to attend, with child care provided for siblings who were too young to benefit from the structured program.

The FIA curriculum was adapted from Dr. Michael Popkin's (1990) textual and video program "Active Parenting of Teens." Popkin's program was designed only for parents, therefore, FIA program staff developed a student curriculum and a student handbook. Program staff also developed an audiotape version of the parent handbook for parents with poor reading skills or eyesight and activities and group exercises appropriate for their population. Sessions 1 and 2 focused on positive thinking and how to use positive rather than negative strategies to reach behavioral goals. Sessions 3 and 4 taught positive communication skills and natural and logical consequences for one's actions. Session 5 focused on school success. Session 6 dealt with the avoidance of ATOD use by youth.

The FIA program targeted multiple domains: the individual, family, peer, school and community. These components are described below.

Individual domain. The FIA program provided skill-building opportunities for parents and youth to increase interpersonal communication skills, basic knowledge of adolescent development, and avenues to school success. The students' segments focused on developing responsible and cooperative behavior in all aspects of their lives. For example, the students were taught that growing up involves making choices and that with these choices come consequences.

Family domain. The FIA program utilized a family systems approach, providing opportunities for families to attend the program and learn skills together. Each of the sessions included time during which parents and youth met in separate groups and time during which all family members met together. Even during those times in which parents and adolescents were separated, the skill-building sessions were designed to teach similar skills utilizing age-appropriate materials. The majority of the skills were taught in the context of family life. At each session, families were provided with family enrichment activities to complete during the week. These home activities formed the basis for the following week's "Share and Tell" component. The program also provided sibling care for other children in the family who were not in the target age group, thus making it more likely that families would be able to attend sessions together.

The family systems approach allowed the family to learn the same skills and to have a common conceptual basis from which to function after leaving the program each week. For example, in Session 3, participants were taught to express their feelings through the use of "I feel . . ." messages. During the next week, students and parents were encouraged to practice these "I" messages on one another. Opportunities for practice, role play and discussion between parents and students opened channels of communication.

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