Archived InformationTools for Schools - April 1998
Developed in 1988, the FAST program began in the Madison, Wisconsin School District with support from Family Service America, a national organization whose membership includes a large number of community-based counseling and family support agencies. At this time FAST has been implemented in over 250 sites in 26 states. The program can be found in a variety of culturally diverse school communities, and is working in urban inner city as well as isolated, rural schools sites.
|A FAST team of three professionals, one from the school and one from each of the partner
agencies, is identified and trained. Training is provided through the Family Services
America National Replication Center, which was established to assist communities offer
effective FAST programs.
|Participating children and parents gather once a week for eight sessions, at the school. The
eight sessions usually take place around the dinner meal.
|Following graduation from a FAST cycle, families participate in FASTWORKS, a series of monthly family support meetings designed to maintain the active social network formed between the participating families.|
Up to 20 children and their parents can be served during each 8-week FAST cycle and a school can sponsor up to four cycles per school year. Parents who have participated in past FAST cycles often play important roles in facilitating and coaching subsequent FAST cycles at their children's school.
|A decision is made regarding which children to invite as members of the first FAST cycle.
There are many ways the screening process can be structured, but frequently teachers
identify children with problem behaviors who are at risk for serious academic and social
|Once the children have been identified, parents are informed of the concern with the child's
behavior. The parents are then invited to participate in FAST through a friendly home visit
by trained, sensitive, recruiters FAST parent graduates, in most cases. To promote
attendance, FAST offers the intangible incentives of respect and social supports as well as
tangible ones such as transportation, a hot meal, and child care for toddlers and infants.
Each family also wins a gift package of needed items sometime during the 8-week session.
|Families gather with the other 8 to 12 participating families for 8 sessions at the child's
school. Meetings follow a structured, uniform agenda that includes carefully planned
opening and closing routines, structured family activities, parent mutual support time, and
parent-child play therapy. These are led by a trained team that includes the parent; the
school professional, usually a school social worker; a mental health agency representative,
usually a clinical social worker; and the substance abuse agency representative, often a
substance abuse counselor.
|The activities at each session are lively and fun and build a sense of family unity. They
include eating a meal together, creating a family flag, singing, and lively exercises in
communication and feelings identification. The parent-child play therapy, called "Special
Play" is at the core of the FAST program. In 15 minutes of uninterrupted quality time,
parents play one-on-one with the child in ways that build the child's self-esteem and enhance
family communication. The parents are instructed to focus on child-initiated play without
directing or criticizing. Parents are encouraged to continue "Special Play" between FAST
sessions and over the next 2 years.
|The multi-family sessions also include time for the children to play together while parents
visit about common interests and concerns. During this time parents build an information
support network for themselves to help each other discover solutions to parenting and family
|At the end of each 8-week FAST cycle, a graduation is held in which the contributions and participation of all participants is celebrated. Invitations are sent and certificates are presented by the school principal. Families pride themselves on being "FAST graduates".|
The FAST program is currently operating in extremely isolated rural areas of northern California, northern Wisconsin and Iowa, as well as inner city neighborhoods in Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC. FAST has also been implemented in school communities with families whose first language is other than English. There are FAST programs serving 100 percent Vietnamese families, Native American families, Hispanic families and African-American families.