This is the literature review taken from:
Kumpfer, K.L., (1993) Strengthening America's Families:
Promising Parenting Strategies for Delinquency Prevention-User's Guide
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Office of Juvenile
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.
This User's Guide was prepared under grant no. 87-JS-CX-K495 from the Office
of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Office of Juvenile Programs.
U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view or opinions in this document are
those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position
or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Promising Programs in Family and Parenting: Risk and Protective Factors in
the Prevention of Delinquency
Years of program development and research have provided effective strategies
for strengthening America's families to prevent delinquency. This document
has been written to help program planners, policy makers and service
providers determine the most effective family-focused and parenting
intervention strategies for the high-risk youth and families they serve.
This guide will review what is currently known about the impact of family
characteristics on risk for delinquency as well as the most promising family
change interventions. Providers using the guide will be better able to
choose or modify existing programs or create new interventions for high-risk
Part I: Family Influence on Delinquency
Analyses how family strengthening approaches reduce delinquency among youth.
It is not always easy to see the connection between early childhood
parenting practices or family environment and later juvenile delinquency in
youty. This section describes research literature on the most important
family factors that should be addressed by a family program.
Part II: Review of Family Strengthening Programs
Describes a national search to find the best family intervention strategies.
This guide reviews only those programs shown to be effective in preventing
problems that often lead to delinquency. Critical issues such as
recruitment, attrition, staff training, and program evaluation are also
PART I: Family Influence on Delinquency
An Historical Perspective
Strengthening high-risk and dysfunctional families to raise children
successfully is one of the most critical social issues in America. Failure
to deal directly with this problem will result in making the United States
less competitive in the 21st Century. Unfortunately, economic circumstances,
cultural norms, and federal legislation in the last two decades have helped
to create an environment that is less supportive of strong, stable families.
Americans must face the reality that alterations in American society have
weakened the ability of families to successfully raise children. Many
unfortunate circumstances have converged to create this problem: a weak
economy that forces many mothers into the workplace, increasing divorce
rates, reducing marriage rates, increasing teen pregnancy rates and numbers
of children born outside of marriage, reduced paternal responsibility for
child support or childrearing, increased child abuse and neglect, and
increasing numbers of children being raised by poorly educated parents,
mother-only families, and in poverty.
It is difficult to assess the causes of this crisis in the family amidst
such a complex interaction of circumstances. For example, as federal public
assistance legislation reduced the numbers of fathers in low income
families,the number of American children raised without fathers and in
poverty doubled from 1960 to 1979. One in five American children are growing
up in poor families headed by women (Levy, 1987). In 1991, 36% of the 11.7
million female-headed families were poor and these families represented half
of all poor families compared to only 23% in 1959 (U.S. Bureau of the
Census, 1991). According to Garfinkel and McLanahan (1986) "families headed
by women with children are the poorest of all major demographic groups
regardless of how poverty is measured" (p.11). The vast majority of these
families remain poor for long periods because they have very low education
levels and low earning capacity. They lack sufficient child support from
absent fathers and receive low levels of public aid (Garfinkel & McLanahan,
Poverty has also become centralized in large urban areas. The number of
metropolitan poor increased 62% from 1969 to 1982 and an urban black
under-class emerged during this period (Wilson, 1987). In the United States,
the rich have been getting richer and the poor poorer since the early 1970s,
according to public policy analysts. Before 1970, family income distribution
was moving toward equality, but since then, upper and lower family incomes
have become increasingly less equal.
At the same time that these economic changes have occurred, the extended
family support system has eroded. Between 1979 and 1982 the number of
children being cared for by extended family members dropped by half. As
other supports and role models have decreased, the burden on parents of
socializing their children has increased. Hamburg and Takanishi (1989) of
the Carnegie Corporation write:
Throughout most of human history, small communities provided durable
networks, familiar human relationships, and cultural guidance for young
people, offering support in time of stress and skills necessary for coping
and adaptation. In contemporary societies, these social supports have eroded
considerably through extensive geographical mobility, scattering of extended
families, and the rise of single-parent families, especially those involving
very young, very poor, and socially isolated mothers (p. 825).
Many research studies have found that children raised by socially deprived
families are at higher risk of chronic, severe delinquency and drug use
(Blumstein, Farrington, and Moitra, 1985; Farrington, 1985). Children from
families with higher income and occupational status do engage in non-chronic
delinquency and occasional alcohol use and marijuana experimentation
(Simcha-Fagan and Gersten, 1986). Hawkins and his associates (Hawkins,
Lishner, Jenson, and Catalano, 1987) have pointed out, however, that
"persistent serious crime and the regular use of illicit drugs appear more
prevalent among those raised in conditions of extreme social and economic
Public policy to strengthen American families has been slow to evolve.
Americans have had to realize families were in trouble before they would
consider changing public policy. In addition, they needed to believe that
there were effective family strengthening strategies to attack the problem.
Lisbeth Schorr's Within Our Reach: Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage (1988)
reviews a number of promising family programs and ends with the statement:
We know how to intervene to reduce the rotten outcomes of adolescence and to
help break the cycle that reaches into succeeding generations. Unshackled
from the myth that nothing works, we can mobilize the political will to
reduce the number of children hurt by cruel beginnings. By improving the
prospects for the least of us, we can assure a more productive, just, and
civil nation for all of us (p.294).
According to a 1986 Louis Harris poll, three quarters of the American public
favors programs to help children, and particularly children living in
poverty. Harris warned, "Politicians who ignore these pleadings from the
American people do so at their own peril. It is a plaintive and poignant
demand that simply will not go away." Senator John D. Rockefeller, IV in his
Chairman's Preface for the Final Report of the National Commission on
Children (1991) accurately summarizes the Commission's "stark and urgent
message to all Americans:"
As a nation, we must set a new course to save our children, strengthening
their families, and regain control of our national destiny. There are no
quick fixes to the problems than threaten the lives and prospects of so many
of America's young people. But the solutions are within reach.
The knowledge gleaned from this national search for the most promising
programs to strengthen the family to raise successful and non-delinquent
children will help us meet the demand of Americans to strengthen America's
families and improve child outcomes.
DEFINITION OF "FAMILY"
The family is the basic institutional unit of society primarily responsible
for child-rearing functions. When families fail to fulfill this
responsibility to children everyone suffers. Families are responsible for
providing physical necessities, emotional support, learning opportunities,
moral guidance and building self-esteem and resilience.
This paper considers the "family" to be the constellation of adults or
siblings who care for a child. Non-traditional family arrangements include
single parent families, divorced families with joint custody of the child,
children living with extended family members, adoptive parents, protective
custody (such as temporary or permanent foster homes, group homes or
institutions), and step-parents, (sometimes in blended families with
children from two or more prior marriages).
A structurally non-traditional family does not necessarily indicate a
high-risk family. The relationships within the family and the amount of
support and guidance provided the child are the most important variables in
the prediction of delinquency. In general, if the remaining family is
stable, supportive and well managed, children who have lost a parent to
divorce or death do not appear to be at greater risk of delinquency
(Mednick, Baker, & Carothers, 1990). However, as the recent final report to
the National Commission on Children points out: "When parents divorce or
fail to marry, children are often the victims. Children who live with only
one parent, usually their mothers, are six times as likely to be poor as
children who live with both parents (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1990)."
Some researchers have found they are also more likely to suffer more
emotional, behavioral, and intellectual problems resulting in a higher risk
of dropping out of school, alcohol and drug use, adolescent pregnancy and
childbearing, juvenile delinquency, mental illness, and suicide (Emery,
1988; McLanahan, 1980; Zill & Schoenborn, 1988)."
The results are quite conflicted as other researchers (Rosen & Neilson,
1982; Farnsworth, 1984; Gray-Ray & Ray, 1990; Parson & Mikawa, 1991; White,
1987) have found no association between single-parent families and
delinquency. Some studies suggest that sons appear to develop more problems
than daughters when the loss of a father is early in their development;
however, adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to emotional distress
when they loose their fathers (Baltes, Featherman, & Learner, 1990;
Hetherington, Anderson, & Stanley-Hagan, 1989; Heatherington & Parke, 1986;
Zaslow & Hayes, 1986). Other researchers have not supported these
differential age and gender effects (Wells & Rankin, 1991). Living in an
abusive or conflict-ridden, two-parent home is considered by experts as
generally more harmful for children than divorce. Loeber and
Stouthamer-Loeber (1986) concluded after a reviewing about 40 studies
examining family structure and delinquency that marital discord was a
stronger predictor of delinquency than family structure. According to Wright
and Wright (1992) four factors may explain the relationship between
single-parent families and delinquency: 1) economic-deprivation, 2) reduced
supervision, formal controls, social supports; 3) living in poverty
neighborhoods characterized by high crime rates and alienation (McLanahan &
Booth, 1989), and 4) an increased criminal justice system response to
children from single-parent families. Because of the importance of fathers
reducing these factors by socializing and protecting children, providing
additional monetary support and community leadership, marriage counselors
are emphasizing solving family problems within marriage (Peterson & Zill,
1986; Taylor, 1991).
An increasing number of children live in complex, shifting, highly stressed
family arrangements. These include homeless children and children living in
foster care. In these cases, it is more difficult to describe the total
family environment and the impact on the child. Few studies have been
conducted on the impact of such family environments.
IMPACT OF FAMILIES ON YOUTH
From as early as the turn of the century experts in juvenile delinquency
(Morrison, 1915) have recognized the family's early and primary role in
influencing delinquency. A number of literature reviews or meta-analyses of
research studies (Geismar & Wood, 1986; Henggeler, 1989; Loeber & Dishion,
1983; Loeber & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1986; Snyder & Patterson, 1987) all
support the conclusion that family functioning variables have an early and
sustained impact on family bonding, conduct disorders, school bonding and
adaptation, and later delinquency in youth. Family dysfunction and poor
parental supervision and socialization are major influences on children's
subsequent delinquency. In fact, community environmental factors, such as
poor schools and neighborhoods as correlates of poverty, have not been
supported as powerful predictors of delinquency as family risk and
protective factors discussed below.
Unfortunately, it has only been until recently that the impact of family
factors in delinquency has received much attention or research funding.
Implications of existing research are that the family environment can either
protect children from subsequent delinquency or put them at greater risk. As
more studies are conducted, the delinquency field will have a better picture
of the indirect and direct influence of families on youth. More detailed
information on what is known follows.
Family Correlates of Delinquency
Depending on the level of functioning, families can negatively impact a
child's development. Loeber and Stouthamer-Loeber (1986) conducted an
impressive meta-analysis of approximately 300 research studies. In
longitudinal studies, socialization factors (i.e., lack of supervision,
parental rejection of the child and child rejection of the parent, and lack
of parent/child involvement) were found to be the strongest predictors of
delinquency. Parental dysfunction, such as criminality, and poor marital
relations were mid-level predictors and parental health and absence were
weak predictors. In concurrent comparative studies, the strongest correlate
of problem behaviors in children and youth was the child's rejection of the
parents and/or the parent's rejection of the child. The importance of
effective parental discipline was higher in these studies than in the
longitudinal studies. The effect of these risk factors appear to be the same
for boys and girls.
From this and other reviews (including Kumpfer, 1987; Wright & Wright, 1992)
as well as other primary sources, a list of family correlates of delinquency
can be assembled:
Resiliency and Protective Family Factors
Though most reviews of the causes of delinquency and other problem behaviors
have primarily focused on risk factors rather than protective factors, it is
possible that protective factors are as important, or more important.
Garmezy and his associates (Garmezy, 1985; Masten & Garmezy, 1985)
contributed significantly to the prevention field with their studies of
stress resistant "invulnerable" or resilient children as well as
"vulnerable" children. One of the major findings in these studies of
children of mentally disordered parents was that high intelligence is a
Michael Rutter (1987b, 1990) has published recently on the concept of
psychosocial resilience. From his own longitudinal research he has concluded
that protective mechanisms operate at key junctures in youths' lives and
that they must be given special attention. Resilient children and youth are
better able to deal with stressors in their lives because they have coping
skills to minimize negative impacts and focus on maintaining their
self-esteem and gaining access to opportunities. In this way they develop
self-efficacy. The process of developing resiliency in youth by teaching
them skills for dealing with challenges and life traumas has been explored
by Richardson and his associates (Richardson, Neiger, Jensen, and Kumpfer,
Having a dream, engaging in long-range planning and being able to delay
gratification have also been shown to be important in resilient youths. In a
longitudinal study of institutionally-reared women, Rutter and Quinton
(1984) found that women with the most successful life adjustments and
marriages were those who exercised "planning" in their life choices (e.g.,
marriage partner, job, pregnancies). Women who planned had better marriages
to less deviant husbands, had much more positive school experiences, and had
significantly lower teenage pregnancy rates (19% vs 48%). It appears that
the ability to develop long range goals or a "dream" is critical in
protecting youth from potentially disastrous life decisions.
Good marital relationships reduce delinquency (Rutter & Quinton, 1984).
However, when family or marital discord exists, positive interpersonal
relationships with one caring parent is a major protective factor for
conduct disorders, psychiatric disorders, and later delinquency and drug use
(Minty, 1988; Rutter, 1987b; Werner, 1986). Most often the one caring parent
is as the mother, hence maternal characteristics become critical.
Researchers (McCord, 1991; Lytton, 1990) have found that competent mothers
who are affectionate, self-confident, non-punitive, and have leadership
skills produce children less likely to become delinquent.
Most integrated, etiological theories of delinquency stress the importance
of family, school, and community bonding. This ability to "bond" is highly
correlated with positive outcomes according to many empirical studies of
delinquency (Hawkins & Weis, 1985; Kumpfer & Turner, 1991; Thornberry,
1987). The ability to develop a close, trusting relationship with someone
else may be the actual resiliency factor. Therefore, in the absence of an
opportunity to form a close attachment to a positive, caring parent
attachments with another caring adults (grandparent, relative, older
sibling, adoptive or foster parent, teachers, or "adopted surrogate parent"
or friend's parents can provide the needed bond with "one caring adult".
Some youth have been found to exercise self-agency (Bandura, 1989) by
escaping rejecting, violent, or chaotic homes and finding more positive
family or institutional settings. Desistance from delinquency (Mulvey &
LaRosa, 1986) and reduced risk of alcohol and drug abuse (Wolin & Wolin,
1993) is related to the youth's ability to create a more positive "family"
life for themselves. Children in abusive family situations are less likely
to become delinquent if they have additional social supports from a close
relationship with a sibling or teen sport coaches and team mates
(Kruttschmitt, Ward, & Sheble, 1987).
Other protective factors that can be influenced by the family or caretaker
include: 1) providing the right degree of hazard in life experiences so that
youth have opportunities to develop coping skills and self-confidence
(Rutter, 1987b), 2) maintaining family routines and rituals (Wolin, Bennett,
& Noonan, 1979), 3) support with academic, social, and life skills
development, 4) promoting positive normative and moral development (Damon,
1988) through family religious involvement and family values education, and
5) help in selecting positive friends and activities.
Families can help a child by teaching positive coping skills. Such skills
protect children against life stressors that might push them into delinquent
behavior. In addition, families can help youths to make good decisions that
will influence their life for some time, such as educational or vocational
training, job selection, choice of a mate, and social groups to join.
Longitudinal studies by Rutter and others have found that making positive
choices at such critical life junctures can have a major impact on future
problems (Rutter and Quinton, 1984). A supportive family with years of
accumulated wisdom from elder members can help youths make good decisions.
In addition, supportive families are likely to discuss family values and
attitudes about the world, including alcohol and drug use. They also can
help youths to learn to delay gratification and develop dreams about what
they want to be and do someday. Without a vision for themselves or a dream
for the future, they are more prone to make unwise choices that would
jeopardize their chances for success.
Structural Versus Functional Family Factors
Jones and DeMaree (1975) in their research on high-risk families, concluded
that structural or demographic characteristics such as race, socioeconomic
status, poverty, frequent family moves, low educational level, and
unemployment are intricately interrelated with family functioning. These
structural factors, often out of the control of family members, may
contribute to family disruption, overcrowding and stress, depression and
other interrelated factors.
Reviews concur that the final pathway in which family factors influence
delinquency is the way that the family functions, rather than external
demographic variables. According to Zill (in press): "It is important to
look at the realities of how families are actually functioning, rather than
labeling some types of families as inevitably bad and others as invariably
good ", for instance "many single parents do manage to provide stable,
secure, stimulating and supportive homes for their youngsters (p.22)."
However, many structural factors tend to be positively correlated with
family dysfunction. Some of these structural factors include:
- Poor socialization practices, including parents' modeling of antisocial
values and behaviors, failure to promote positive moral development,
and neglect in teaching life, social, and academic skills to the child.
- Poor supervision of the child, including failure to monitor the child's
activities, neglect, latch-key conditions, sibling supervision, and too
few adults to care for the number of children.
- Poor discipline skills, including lax, inconsistent, or excessive
discipline, expectations unrealistic for the developmental level of the
child (which creates a failure syndrome), and excessive, unrealistic
demands or harsh physical punishment.
- Poor parent/child relationships, including rejection of the child by
the parents or of the parents by the child, lack of involvement and
time together, and maladaptive parent/child interactions.
- Excessive family conflict and marital discord with verbal, physical or
- Family chaos and stress often because of poor family management skills
or life skills or poverty.
- Poor parental mental health, including depression and irritability that
cause negative views of the child's behaviors.
- Family isolation and lack of community support resources.
- Differential family acculturation and role reversal or loss of parental
control over adolescents by parents who are less acculturated than
Multiple Pathways and Multiple Risk Factors in High-risk Families
There are many pathways to delinquency (Huizinga, Esbensen, & Weiher, 1991)
and a variety of family circumstances contribute to negative behavior in
children (Wright & Wright, 1992). Studies of family risk factors for
delinquency conclude that the probability of a child becoming a delinquent
increases rapidly as the number of family problems or risk factors increases
(Rutter, 1987a). Children and youth generally appear to be able to withstand
the stress of one or two family problems. When they are continually
bombarded by family problems, however, their normal development is impeded.
Unfortunately, family risk factors often tend to cluster. For example,
children of poverty typically contend with multiple problems, including
parental absence because parents must work or because fathers unable to
support their family have left; irritable and depressed parents or
caretakers; lack of money for social or educational opportunities; and in
severe cases, lack of adequate food and clothing, and even homelessness.
- Poverty, which is the overarching cause of many of the other structural
and functional family factors. Parents who are poor do not have the
money to provide the same opportunities for their children as more
prosperous families. Many of the poor are single working mothers who do
not have enough money to provide adequate child care, health care, or
- Neighborhood disorganization, which is related to increased crime.
There are two possible reasons for this relationship. First, in
disorganized neighborhoods, youth do not have close bonds with
neighbors, and second, informal monitoring of youth in such
neighborhoods is limited.
- High density housing, which is related to juvenile crime and family
dysfunction. Families are often socially isolated in public housing
projects and live under a great deal of stress.
- Reduced educational, cultural, and job opportunities. The economic
robustness of a neighborhood often determines the quality of the
schools, access to community cultural resources, and number of jobs
available for youth.
- Discrimination, which is also related to poor growth outcomes, whether
caused by religious, ethnic, cultural, gender or family background
factors. Youth who are not accepted by the mainstream youth in their
school, church, or neighborhood are not likely to bond to these social
CHILD VERSUS FAMILY-FOCUSED INTERVENTIONS
In both the delinquency and substance abuse prevention or intervention
fields, most programs are aimed at working with problem youths themselves,
rather than the whole family. Historically, earlier approaches to
rehabilitation and therapy assumed that it was the youth who had the
problem, not the family. In addition, working with children and youths is
easier than working with parents and other family members -- children and
adolescents are generally more accessible through schools or community
groups for participation in delinquency prevention activities than are
Although efforts focusing on youths themselves should be continued, mounting
evidence demonstrates that strengthening the family has a more enduring
impact on the child. In a review of both family- and child-focused
approaches to the reduction of conduct disorders, McMahon (1987) concludes
that child "skills training approaches have failed to demonstrate a
favorable outcome or evidence of generalization in more naturalistic
settings (p. 149)". Conversely, family-focused approaches have demonstrated
outcomes that are both positive and enduring.
PART II: REVIEW OF FAMILY STRENGTHENING PROGRAMS
The previous review highlighted the need for family-level intervention in
the prevention of delinquency. Today there are many different types of
parenting and family strengthening programs designed to address the family
problems discussed. Psychotherapy has stressed the importance of family
interventions. Coleman and Stanton (1978, p. 479) wrote: "It is an
understatement to say that family approaches to psychotherapy have increased
in popularity and breadth during recent years." Family systems theory and
family therapy techniques are widely taught in training programs for
The increased success of treatment when the family is involved is widely
acknowledged by therapists and documented in the research literature (Gurman
and Kniskern, 1978; Stanton and Todd, 1982). Most therapists are acutely
aware of the damage that a family can do to client's therapeutic progress if
the family is not supportive of the treatment goals or are unaware of their
impact on the client. Obvious and subtle forms of sabotage occur as family
members attempt to redevelop the former family balance and dynamic.
A number of prevention researchers (Loeber and Stouthamer-Loeber, 1986;
Fraser, Hawkins and Howard, 1986; McMahon, 1987) strongly support
family-focused prevention interventions as the most effective intervention
strategy for delinquency and substance abuse (Kaufman and Kaufman, 1979;
Kaufman, 1986; Stanton and Todd, 1982).
DEFINITION OF "FAMILY STRENGTHENING PROGRAMS"
For the purposes of this review, a family strengthening program will be
defined as any intervention that works with either a parent or caretaker of
a child or some members of a family (including at least one target child)
with the goal of reducing risk or increasing protective factors for problem
behaviors. Parent or family programs can vary from a single session to a
much longer and more intensive series of sessions.
Programs that use volunteers or professionals working directly with a child
are considered "surrogate" parenting programs. Examples of these programs
include Big Brothers or Big Sisters, Partners, Foster Grandparent programs
(if they work with the child and not the parent), intensive foster parent
programs or professional group home programs. They technically do not meet
the criteria for a parent or family strengthening program, but they are
covered in this review, within a loose definition of "family" as child
A national search for the best methods for strengthening families yielded 25
different intervention strategies (as well as many variations or
combinations). These do not exhaust all the possibilities. One of the
reasons for such a wide diversity of family strengthening programs is that
the needs of the families vary and programs must be tailored to meet those
needs. As shown in Figure 1, major factors to consider in the selection of
the most appropriate family program are the age of the child at risk and the
level of identified dysfunction of the family.
At the top left are the earliest interventions possible, such as family or
parent education in schools before young people even become parents. Family
education can begin as early as elementary school in order to prepare youth
for future family responsibilities. At the other extreme are programs for
families in crisis who have a youth on probation for criminal involvement.
MODELS OF FAMILY STRENGTHENING PROGRAMS
Only the most popular and promising intervention strategies included in
Figure 1 will be reviewed here. One major dichotomy of the intervention
strategies are those that involve the parents or caretakers only, called
parenting approaches, and those that involve the parents with at least the
target child, often called family approaches. Some basic variants of each of
these two major approaches will be discussed below, including several model
The major parenting approaches defined and described below include parent
education, behavioral parent training, Adlerian parent training, parent
support groups, in-home parent education or parent aid, and parent
involvement in youth groups.
Parent Education Programs
Parent education programs are distinguished in this paper from parent
training programs in that education programs generally involve fewer
sessions and do not have the parents practice skills in the groups or do
assigned homework. Parent education programs can range from a single
motivational lecture to a series of lectures that may involve experiential
exercises and self-ratings.
These programs generally involve teaching parents ways to improve their
parenting or family relationships. Sometimes these programs involve
increasing awareness of community resources to help their family or child.
Parent education may include appropriate behavioral expectations, ways to
better supervise and discipline children, tips for how to improve moral and
ethical thinking in children, ways to discuss family values and ways to
monitor stealing and lying. Such programs also often include information
about the risks of alcohol and drug use, early warning signs of use, other
behavioral or family risk factors, the family disease concept, and ways to
talk with children about alcohol and drug abuse.
Parent education can be conducted in many different ways. For example,
high-risk families may not have time to attend parenting classes, but most
watch television. Popkin's Active Parenting Program has been shown on PBS in
the state of Washington. Some parenting programs are available on audio tape
or video tape to be reviewed at home. Magazines often carry feature or
serial articles on improving parenting and family relations. Some businesses
offer parenting classes during lunch hours (an excellent way to attract
fathers). Some school alcohol and drug prevention programs include homework
assignments to be done with the parents.
Popular anti-drug programs such as the Parents' Resource Institute for Drug
Education (PRIDE) and the National Federation for Drug Free Youth include
parent education components about such topics as teaching parents how to
talk to their children about alcohol or drugs (as does the National Council
on Alcoholism's "Talking With Your Kids About Alcohol" developed by the
Prevention Research Institute).
Hawkins and his associates (Hawkins, Lishner, Jenson, and Catalano, 1987)
have developed a risk factor based parent education program, called
Preparing for the Drug-free Years, that can be implemented in five sessions
with the support of video tapes. The program works well for statewide
dissemination through schools and community agencies. The program is being
tailored for high-risk and ethnic families.
Behavioral Parent Training Programs
This group of programs teaches parents of a difficult child how to
discipline the child more effectively and control overt conduct disorders.
The programs are highly structured and trainers use programmed instructional
aids and manuals with special topics and exercises with homework assignments
each week. Typically a course includes 8 to 14 weekly sessions lasting about
1 to 2 hours. Skills typically taught include behavioral shaping principles
of positive reinforcement, attending to wanted behaviors and ignoring
unwanted behaviors. Parents are taught first how to "catch your child being
good" and reward the child for good behavior. These techniques improve the
child's problem behavior and develop a more positive relationship between
parents and children. Once parents have mastered paying attention to the
good things their children do, they are taught to decrease inappropriate or
unwanted behaviors by not attending to these behaviors or using mild
punishments, such as time outs, natural consequences, and loss of
The basic parent education and training programs have been well documented
to be effective in reducing problem behaviors in children. There is less
evidence concerning the applicability of these programs to reduce
delinquency, since the programs work primarily with younger children. The
programs have, however, demonstrated effectiveness for reducing overt
conduct disorder problems in children. Approximately 50% of all children
diagnosed with conduct disorders develop delinquency in adolescence and the
others often show other social and developmental problems (Kazdin, 1987).
There are many types of behavioral parent training programs, but most are
variants of the parenting model developed by Patterson and his associates at
the Oregon Social Learning Center. Patterson's book: Families: Applications
of Social Learning to Family Life (1975) explains this type of parent
training. Family members read his other book, Living with Children (1976)
prior to starting the group. Another widely used parenting resource book is
Becker's book called Parents are Teachers: A Child Management Program
Adlerian Parenting Programs
These programs are based on clinical psychology principles of improving the
whole person. Dinkmeyer and McKay's (1976) Systematic Training for Effective
Parenting (STEP) is based on the theoretical teachings of Alfred Adler. This
program involves local groups of parents in 8 to 12 weekly two-hour sessions
covering parenting topics such as understanding the child's behavior and
emotions, using encouragement, listening and communicating more effectively,
disciplining by using natural and logical consequences rather than
punishment, establishing family meetings, and developing confidence as a
parent. The goal of this program is to improve the child's self-concept and
The popular Parent Effectiveness Training (PET) program developed by Gordon
(1970) is based on the self theory of Rogers. The primary focus of this
program is enhancing the family's communication, problem-solving, and
mediation skills. Parents are taught active and reflective listening skills
and the use of open-ended questions. They are taught to consult with
children regarding problems, but to leave the child to make his or her own
choices. Parents also learn about parental power and the problems of being
overly permissive or authoritarian.
Another popular program that stresses communication is Glenn's (1984)
"Developing Capable Young People" program. This 10-session program focuses
on the parent's role in socializing children in pro-social ways.
Parent Support Groups
These groups are generally grassroots organizations of parents who provide
support and education for members. Examples of these groups include The
National Federation of Parents for Drug Free Youth, Toughlove, PRIDE, The
Cottage's Families in Focus, Mothers at Home, Mothers of Pre-Schoolers
(MOPS) and Families in Action. These national organizations provide
parenting and alcohol and drug education materials. Their local chapters
often offer parent support groups. In these support groups parents can share
their concerns and problem-solve with the group. Some of these groups, like
Toughlove, provide temporary respite care for parents having problems with
their adolescents. Some organizations, like STRAIT, provide residential
treatment for drug-using youths, followed by several months of living with
other parents in the support group.
Parent Aid or In-home Parent Education
This type of program offers parent education to parents who find it
difficult to come to group meetings. Teen Moms is an example of this type of
program. Professional public health nurses and social workers often deliver
in-home parent education and occasionally parent training to new mothers. If
paid professionals are not available, parent aids are sometimes used to
deliver these services. Parent aids are highly trained volunteers who are
willing to work in homes to teach parents to improve care of an infant.
Parent Involvement in Youth Groups
This approach includes a wide variety of ways to get busy or distrustful
parents to become more involved with their child through the child's
participation in a preschool, school, church, or children's agency group or
activity. High-risk parents, who would not volunteer for a parent training
group, are gradually involved in the children's groups and are exposed to
improved parenting skills through observing teachers or trainers work with
the children. For example, City Lights in Washington, D.C. gradually gains
the trust and interest of inner city, low SES parents by calling them to
notify them about their child's achievements in their youth activities
program. After a period of increasing contact, parents occasionally are
willing to volunteer to help with the youth activities or join a parenting
Headstart and pre-school programs have for some time informally taught
parenting skills by involving parents in preschool activities. The positive
results of the Perry Pre-school Project may be mainly due to this direct
modeling of appropriate ways to discipline, support, and help children. The
parents learn by watching the teachers and by working with their own child
and other children. In San Antonio, the Los Ninos Project includes three
levels of parent involvement in the children's groups, ranging from no
involvement to helping with food and materials for the groups, and, finally,
to helping with the children's activities.
Family Prevention Approaches
Several major family interventions have been used to help prevent
delinquency, substance abuse, and other teen problems. These include family
education programs, family skills training programs, family therapy, family
services, and in-home family crisis services or family preservation
programs. Each intervention type is discussed below.
Family Education Programs
These programs provide the family with lectures or educational sessions on
family values, responsibility to society and others, law-related education,
family communications, alcohol and drug use, relationship enhancement
techniques, and other family strengthening strategies. This approach has
been used as either a single session or a series of lectures or experiential
sessions conducted in schools, churches, community centers, juvenile courts,
youth rehabilitation centers, adolescent group homes, alcohol and drug
treatment centers and public agencies. Workbooks are also available for
families to conduct independent family discussions at home.
Family Skills Training Programs
These programs are often called behavioral family therapy or behavioral
parent training (if the child is included in the sessions). They
specifically involve structured family training sessions. A number of
behavioral family therapy programs have been reviewed by McMahon (1987).
Intensive family skills programs combine adapted behavioral parent training
programs with children's social skills training programs and family
relationship enhancement programs. Examples include the Strengthening
Families Program (Kumpfer, DeMarsh, and Child, 1989a, b, c) and The
Nurturing Program (Bavolek, Comstock and McLaughlin, 1983), and Families and
Schools Together (McDonald, Plant, & Billingham, 1988).
Family skills training programs have been evaluated rigorously by
researchers and found to be effective in reducing a number of family,
parent, and child risk factors for delinquency. Kumpfer and DeMarsh (1986)
state that they were able to reduce problem behaviors in youths and improve
family functioning with their Strengthening Families Program.
Family Therapy Programs
This group of programs includes a number of different clinical approaches to
the family such as structural family therapy (Minuchin, 1974; Szapocznik et
al., 1983), functional family therapy (Alexander and Parsons, 1973, 1982),
strategic family therapy (Haley, 1963), and structural-strategic family
therapy (Stanton and Todd, 1982). These family intervention approaches
depend on the discretion of the individual therapist to determine the
appropriate application and timing of specific techniques and exercises.
The Functional Family Therapy approach was evaluated primarily for the
prevention of delinquency in young status offenders by Alexander and Parsons
(1973). They found reductions in recidivism and improvements in problem
behaviors as well as a preventive impact on delinquency in younger siblings
(Klein et al., 1977).
Family Services Models
This is the traditional family services model in which a large number of
needed services are brokered by a caseworker or a case manager. High risk
families often need more than family therapy or skills training. Rather,
they often have immediate basic needs, such as food, clothing, medical care,
and housing. Only after these emergency needs are met can the family begin
to consider parenting and family enhancement program involvement.
In-home Family Preservation Programs
This approach includes a number of in-home crisis services that are often
used for the preservation of the family when out-placement of a child is
imminent. Homebuilders, the prototype program, was developed in Washington
by Haapala and Kinney (1979). This model has been so successful in reducing
placement of youths in state custody and institutions or group homes that it
is currently being replicated in many states. In this model, a team of
highly trained family services workers arrive at the family's home and
provide whatever in-home services are needed. The intervention is very much
like that delivered by the traditional social worker, but the services are
more intensive and short term.
Surrogate Family Approaches
If the biological parents are not involved with the child or able to
participate in parent or family programs, working with extended family
members or other parent surrogates is possible. Parenting and family
programs have been developed for adoptive parents, blended families, group
home parents, foster grandparents, Big Brothers or Big Sisters, volunteer
sponsors, and for foster parents (Guerney, 1974).
An application of behavioral parent training has been developed by Patterson
and his associates for delinquent youths committed to state institutions. At
the Oregon Social Learning Center's (OSLC) Specialized Foster Care Model,
institutionalized or to-be-institutionalized delinquents are assigned to
specially selected and trained foster care parents. The foster parents have
daily contact with the OSLC staff and the youth's teacher. Chamberlain and
Reid (1987) reported success in preventing recidivism among youth who
completed the program.
The Teaching Family Model (TFM) was developed for married couples who run
community-based residential programs for treating conduct disordered
adolescents. The prototype of this type of surrogate family model is
Achievement Place, which first opened in Kansas in 1967. There are now over
215 residential group homes employing this treatment model (Wolf, Braukmann,
and Ramp, 1987). The teaching parents are rigorously trained in a one-year
training program that culminates in certification by the National
The Teaching Family Model has been evaluated by the originators (Kirigin,
Braukmann, Atwater and Wolf, 1982) and by an independent evaluation
(Weinrott, Jones and Howard, 1982). Both evaluations found significant
reductions in official records of delinquent behaviors in youths in the TFM
program compared to youths in other group homes. These reductions lasted for
the time they were in the residential homes, but did not continue in the
following year. A longer term follow-up may reflect later "sleeper effects".
Chamberlain and Reid (1987) report that a similar approach to the foster
parent TFM program developed by Patterson and colleagues has demonstrated
reductions in conduct disorders over time.
OUTCOMES OF FAMILY STRENGTHENING PROGRAMS
Summary of Program Effectiveness
Overall, family-focused interventions have been shown to be superior to
child-only interventions. McMahon (1987) discusses the relative failure of
school-based children's programs for the reduction of conduct disorders and
concludes that these skills training programs, though widely used, "have
failed to demonstrate a favorable outcome or evidence of generalization in
more naturalistic settings (p.149)".
McMahon (1987) summarizes the deficits in most children's skills training
It seems quite unrealistic to assume that altering a single skill deficit is
likely to have a wide-ranging impact on youth with problems as pervasive as
those typically seen in conduct disordered populations. A more
clinically-defensible strategy would be the systematic evaluation of some of
these interventions as adjuncts to family-based treatments, with particular
attention being paid to the extent of the developmental progression of the
conduct disordered behaviors and the identification of particular deficits
for individual children (p.149).
The evaluations of family programs differ in quality and some have not been
replicated by other researchers with other populations. Taken as a whole,
however, these evaluations indicate the strength of family-focused
approaches. Family skills training appears to be most the most promising
family-focused approach. The target child, along with the rest of the family
participates in structured activities designed to modify interaction
patterns. This strategy is desirable for high-risk families in which the
therapist should monitor the changes in the parents and child interaction
patterns throughout the training process. Many variations of family skills
training have been developed and can be tailored to the specific needs of
Recommendations to Improve Effectiveness of Family Interventions
A number of program design and implementation issues can make the difference
between success and failure of family intervention programs. Some of the
most important issues are discussed below.
Provide Programs of Sufficient Intensity
High-risk families need considerable time and support before they are
capable of making changes. Many family service programs find that
standardized parenting or family training programs cannot even begin until
staff spend a number of sessions getting to know the family's needs,
locating support services, and developing trust. The more needy the family
and parents, the more sessions this requires.
Kazdin (1987) suggests that parent training programs of less than ten hours
duration are unlikely to be successful. In their study, Kumpfer and DeMarsh
(1985) observed that some high risk and lower education level parents could
have used more than the 14 sessions in their Strengthening Families Program,
particularly if these parents missed a number of sessions and were having
difficulty implementing the concepts at home. A number of family training
specialists estimate that, with high-risk families, at least 30 to 40
contact hours are needed to have a positive and lasting impact.
Match the Program to the Family's Needs
Accurate assessment of the family's problems is needed to tailor the family
interventions to the family's needs. One good example of how such tailoring
can be accomplished is provided by L'Abate's (1977) Family Enrichment
Program. L'Abate developed a clinical assessment tool that specifies the
type of training and the number of sessions needed, depending on the
family's scores on different family factor scales on a test. This tailoring
approach is recommended for high-risk families who have multiple problems.
Assessments are required to determine whether a child's acting out behaviors
are likely to evolve into serious problems later on. It would not be
cost-effective to intervene with all non-compliant young children, as many
of these children grow out of these behaviors. The literature suggests that
children with a large number of risk factors are those most in need of
prevention interventions because of their increased risk for delinquency.
Time Programs for Developmental Appropriateness
In order to be most effective, family interventions must be appropriately
timed to the developmental stages of youth. For example, programs to teach
parents to monitor their teenager's stealing and lying are probably too
little, too late. Such parental training programs are needed from the 2nd to
the 5th grades at the latest.
Make Programs Culturally Relevant and Easily Understood
Most parenting and family programs have not been adapted for use by
different ethnic groups. Generally, prevention programs are developed and
evaluated for effectiveness with a broad general population before adapting
them for special populations. In the last few years parent training programs
have begun to be revised to be more culturally sensitive and appropriate.
Alvy, Fuentes, Harrison and Rosen (1980) at the Center for the Improvement
of Child Caring (CICC) in Ventura, California have developed a "Confident
Parenting" program for African-American parents and another for Hispanic
parents. Kumpfer, DeMarsh, and Child (1989) have developed a parent training
programs for African-American, low SES substance abusing parents as part of
their Strengthening Families Program. Hawkins and his associates have
modified their training manual for "Preparing for the Drug-Free Years" to
include the results of focus groups with different ethnic groups. A number
of issues that should be considered in developing family programs for
Hispanic families have been researched by Szapocznik and his associates (in
press) at the University of Miami. Some of these cultural issues are
discussed by Paul Cardenas in his manuscript for the project "Culture and
Cultural Competency: Youth Focused Prevention and Intervention".
Program materials should also be appropriate to the reading and conceptual
level of the population being served. This is one area that requires close
scrutiny, because many high-risk families have very low reading and
educational levels. If materials are too difficult to read or understand,
program effectiveness is diminished.
Pay Attention to Parental Dysfunction
Parental dysfunction should be considered when screening for admission to a
family program. Dumas (1986) found a composite index of maternal and
paternal psychopathology, family violence, and SES disadvantage to be most
predictive of outcomes in parent training. It is recommended that the Beck
Depression Inventory and the Global Assessment Scale (GAS) be used as
screening instruments. Potential clients with very high depression or mental
health problem scores should be referred for treatment before admission to
the family program. Kumpfer (1990) found in her modification of the
Strengthening Families Program for African-American families that parents
with low functioning scores on the GAS still had positive results in terms
of changes in children's risk status. Hence, low functioning parents should
be admitted as long as they can follow the program and gain from the
experience. Excessively disruptive parents should be screened from the
group, however, because of the detrimental impact on the group as a whole.
Pay Sufficient Attention to Recruitment and Retention
Family intervention programs for high-risk families generally have problems
with recruitment and attrition. Successful programs modify their format to
make it attractive for family members to attend. Therapists must recognize
that a key step in helping families is promotion and recruitment. Many
therapist are not trained to do recruitment and narrowly define their role
as sitting in an office and "doing family therapy". Changes in attitudes
through improved clinical training programs will be needed when training
students to be successful therapist for high-risk families.
Many of the parent training and family therapy programs were developed and
tested for relatively high-functioning parents. Patterson's basic behavioral
parent training program requires parents to be motivated, organized, and
capable of reading programmed tests and completing homework assignments.
Little time is programmed in the course to deal with crises and problems,
which are frequent in high-risk families. Despite this lack of course
material or specific topics on parental problems, Patterson and Chamberlain
(1988) estimate that approximately 30% of the course time is spent dealing
with such parental problems.
Kazdin (1987b) found that only about 25% of parents of conduct disordered
children are willing to participate in the basic behavioral parent training
program. What can be done for the other 75% parents of conduct disordered
children to get them involved? Though the original parent training programs
generally require fairly motivated and educated parents, adaptations have
been made recently to reach more dysfunctional parents and those with low
socio-economic status (Fleishman and Szykula, 1980; Sachs, 1986; Stanton and
The following principles are important in recruitment and retention of
Develop Strategies to Overcome Barriers
Despite almost universal theoretical agreement that involving family members
in treatment or prevention interventions for high-risk youths is most
effective, there are practical barriers to doing so. The first and most
difficult problem, as discussed above, is to get family members to agree to
participate in programs and to attend sessions once they have enrolled.
Reasons for difficulties in recruitment and retention include transportation
problems, lack of child care for the other children, lack of time, and lack
of a perceived need to improve their parenting skills or family
relationships, and fear of having children taken away.
Agency staff must develop strategies for dealing with each barrier to
recruitment and attrition. A helpful tool for developing awareness of
barriers is a self assessment test developed by Kumpfer and DeMarsh (1988)
that includes questions about barriers to involvement in prevention
activities and possible strategies to overcome these barriers.
Transportation problems can be overcome by providing bus tokens or arranging
car pools or van pick-ups. Child care problems can be overcome by providing
child care or by running a structured children's skills training group
during the time of the parenting class, as does the Strengthening Families
Program. If lack of time is an issue, for example, there are often ways to
decrease the time cost by running the parenting group prior to a group that
the parents regularly attend anyway, such as an Alcoholics Anonymous or
therapy. Free child care can be offered during the time parents are in their
support group, if they also attend a parent training group. Other strategies
are to offer parent training at work sites on lunch hours or to show
parenting videos while parents wait at general assistance offices or patient
Meeting the overtly stated needs is often possible, but it is more difficult
to overcome underlying, unstated barriers. Some of these unstated barriers
include lack of ownership of the program, fear of the agency (for example,
concern that the agency will report the parent to protective services), and
perceived cultural or ethnic differences. In general, it is important to
involve leaders from the target group of parents in the design of the
program. These leaders can help recruit high-risk parents, help select
program staff and provide feedback on the relevancy of the topics covered.
The program should include time for personal sharing in order to build group
support for members. If word gets around that trainers don't know anything
about parents' real needs or about raising children, it will be very hard to
Provide Other Needed Services
Family interventions for the prevention of delinquency should be embedded
within comprehensive family service agencies. It is nearly impossible to
have much impact on high- risk families without providing a range of other
supportive services to the family. Such family interventions should
recognize the social environment of the family and strive to find ways to
reduce stress and increase informal support networks. Volunteer family
sponsorship programs may be a way to reach high risk families. Such programs
may be particularly effective if they involve successful parents from the
same neighborhoods or social groups. At one time other social institutions,
such as neighborhood churches, provided informal community support for
families. These supports, however, may no longer be as available to high
risk families or may be underutilized by them.
Pay Attention to Cost-Effectiveness
A major issue in the selection or development of family programs for
high-risk families is the availability, quality and cost of the manuals and
of the support materials, such as videos, parent handbooks or workbooks,
films, and evaluation materials.
Some of the reviewed programs have developed video, audio, and film
materials to be used within the structured training course.
Webster-Stratton's Videotape Modeling Group Discussion Program (VMGD) (1987)
has put the entire program on video tape. Such an approach makes the program
easy and inexpensive to disseminate.
Measure Program Effectiveness
Clinicians should be encouraged to measure the effectiveness of the program
in changing behavior during and after the family intervention. Clinicians
are often reluctant to carry out evaluations of program effectiveness. One
way to encourage such evaluations would be for public and insurance funders
to tie continued funding to demonstrated effectiveness.
Follow-up studies are also needed to track the longer term effectiveness of
promising programs. Funding from the beginning of the program should be
earmarked for the follow-up evaluation.
- Provide transportation, a safe convenient and non-stigmatizing place
for the program, and child care;
- Provide incentives for involvement until bonding to the leaders and
group occurs. Examples include refreshments, toys for children, and
prizes for completed homework or attendance;
- Hold discussions during the first session on possible barriers to
attendance, extend personal invitations to join the group and ask
leaders and other group members to contact members who miss sessions;
- Use indigenous trainers to increase program accessibility;
- Involve parents in program modifications to foster a sense of program
This report presents highlights of a comprehensive literature review and
discusses protective and risk factors within families that are related to
delinquency. It also describes different family strategies, based on these
factors, that can strengthen families' ability to raise youths who will not
engage in delinquent activities.
Figure 1 presents a matrix to help organize the wide variety of possible
parent and family programs and services according to the age of the child
and the level of functioning of the family. This conceptualization will be
useful in helping agencies determine the most appropriate family services
for their target populations.
The main purpose of this review is to demonstrate that there is no one best
family strategy for the prevention of delinquency. Instead, several types of
parenting programs are needed. There are programs best suited for parents of
infants, of children, or of adolescents. Some programs are best suited for
well functioning families while others can be used by dysfunctional
families. There is no single best program, but there are elements which make
some family programs more effective. One key factor is the fit between the
family's needs and the content and duration of the course. Other major
factors in the success of the program include implementation issues, such as
successful recruitment and retention strategies, and follow up.
Kazdin (1987b) suggests that we should not think in terms of "single shot"
family inoculation programs. Multi-problem families with long-term problems
are not likely to benefit from weak dose, single shot family programs. They
need coordinated and long term help, including ongoing support and booster
sessions with coordinated family services. Such intensive, comprehensive
programs are likely to be most successful in helping high-risk families
raise non-delinquent children.