New research establishes that a family-focused intervention program leads to fewer drop-outs and lower rates of alcohol and illegal drug use.
Prevention scientists at Arizona State University discovered that a family-oriented intervention for middle school Mexican American children was beneficial.
“This is the first randomized prevention trial that we’re aware of to show effects on school dropout for this population,” said Nancy Gonzales, Ph.D., a professor at Arizona State University.
The study is published in the journal Prevention Science.
Researchers discovered participation in the program during seventh grade resulted in youth who were more likely to value high school and believe it was important for their future.
Investigators reported lower rates of substance use, internalizing symptoms such as depression, and school drop-out rates compared to adolescents in a control group.
Experts believe the research is especially significant since Mexican American youth face significant barriers that lead them to have one of the highest high-school drop-out rates in the nation.
The program engages families in seventh grade to stay on an academic track and plan for their future so they are prepared for high school and young adulthood.
The new findings show that adolescents who are at high risk for problems such as early drinking were most likely to benefit from the program and show positive effects.
Effects of the intervention program that included 516 students and their parents in four Maricopa County (Ariz.) middle-schools were found during the high-school years for participants who completed the program.
“The program has something to offer for all students, but our research shows those who need the program the most benefit the most,” Gonzales said.
Key elements consist of students working with peers and facilitators to explore the value of education, identify and affirm personal goals and values, and learn strategies to cope with adolescent problems and difficult life challenges.
Parents also work with facilitators to keep communication with their children positive by providing support, monitoring, and limit-setting that adolescents need.
Ema Jauregui realized many benefits in her students when the program was implemented in her classroom when she was a middle-school teacher at Estrella Middle School in Phoenix.
“The program brought in parents and students to work side by side. It really reinforces education for the students and the program is very easy to implement,” she said.
“It moves the focus from just discipline to educational needs and problem solving. When kids see that their parent cares about education, they see more value in it.”
Jauregui saw parents and children develop positive communication skills, even witnessing the first time a child and parent had hugged during the youth’s teenage years.
Among the program’s aims are to strengthen core competencies that allow youth to thrive, even when they are faced with adversity.
“Research findings show that that middle school is an opportune time to strengthen competencies and to motivate parents to provide the guidance and support that youth need to stay on a good path through adolescence,” said Gonzales, the principal investigator for the study.
The research team has recently been awarded a new grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse to focus on long term sustainability of the program in Title I schools.
“Now that we understand the core components that account for long-term effects of the program, we can redesign a next generation program that fits the needs of families and schools that have limited resources,” Gonzales said.
“We want to ensure that more families have this opportunity.”
Source: Arizona State University