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Strengthening Families Program

The Strengthening Families Program (SFP) was developed in 1982 by Dr. Karol L. Kumpfer and co-workers at the University of Utah. Recognized by several agencies as being an excellent research-based family model, SFP is a skills training program that focuses on decreasing an adolescent’s risk factors for delinquency, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, aggression or violence, and educational failure by improving parenting skills, family relationships, and the child’s life and social skills. The program is targeted towards children aged 6 to 12 and their parents.

The program has been modified to address unique challenges and circumstances faced by specific populations including rural families, African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, and Asian/Pacific Islanders. There are also versions available for Canadian and Australian families. Though developed to help children with parents that abuse drugs and alcohol, the program has been found to be equally effective for non-substance abusing families. The program can be conducted in a number of settings including schools, in-home, homeless shelters, family centers, mental health facilities, and drug courts.

The SFP program teaches three courses over the span of 14 sessions: Family Life Skills Training, Parent Skills Training, and Children’s Skills Training. These courses are taught in two-hour blocks. The first hour, parents and children are separated to learn the skills that apply to their position in the family.

Parents learn

  • How to use attention and rewards to promote desired behaviors
  • How to discipline children effectively
  • Communicating clearly
  • About substance abuse
  • Solving problems
  • Setting limits

Children learn

  • Effective communication skills
  • Stress management skills
  • About substance abuse and associated consequences
  • Resisting peer pressure and other social skills
  • Understanding feelings and coping with criticism and anger
  • Problem solving skills
  • About complying with rules set by parents

During the second half of the session, the family comes together to participate in structured activities designed to put what they have learned into use such as therapeutic child’s play, communication exercises, and disciplining exercises. To promote patient retention and program completion, it is recommended that there be incentives for attending classes, participating in a positive manner, completing homework, and graduating. The provision of meals prior to class, child care, and transportation can also eliminate many of the barriers to program attendance and completion.

The Strengthening Families Program has been evaluated many times by independent agencies and all have produced similar reports. The program has proven to be effective at reducing or preventing issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, deviant behavior, and depression in kids and parents. It has also helped parents improve their skills and strengthened family relationships.

The first agency to evaluate SFP was the NIDA who conducted their study from 1983 to 1987. Additionally, the culturally-specific versions of the program were evaluated by six CSAP grantees. Recently, the CSAP Predictor Variable grant found that the SFP model for rural families was very effective at reducing aggression, behavioral disorders, and anti-social behavior in children. The preliminary reports of a current study being conducted on Washington D.C. families shows that the program helps reduce behavioral problems in children while improving their social skills.