Program

Apr 08, 2015

OVERVIEW

Fun FRIENDS is a universal, school-based anxiety prevention program for children ages four to seven. It is delivered by teachers over the course of ten weekly lessons focusing on socio-emotional skills and resilience, and further incorporates two parent sessions to reinforce the program’s lessons. In an RCT comparing Fun FRIENDS to two control conditions, the Fun FRIENDS program was found to have positive impacts on behavioral and emotional strength and behavioral inhibition at post-test and at the twelve-month follow-up, and on behavioral difficulties from pre-test to post-test; the same evaluation also found a positive impact on the protective factors related to these outcomes.

DESCRIPTION OF PROGRAM

Target population: Children between the ages of 4 and 7

Fun FRIENDS is a universal, school-based prevention program that aims to prevent anxiety and behavioral inhibition in young children, as well as to promote social and emotional skills and resilience. Classroom teachers deliver the program’s ten weekly sessions, along with two booster sessions. Each session deals with skills, strategies, or themes of the program and builds on the content of previous sessions in a sequential, structured manner. The program starts with an introductory session that introduces the concept of “being brave” and includes content on social skills promotion, accepting differences, and developing a sense of identity. Subsequent sessions deal with seven distinct lessons: Feelings, Remember to relax, I can try my best!, Encourage, Nurture, Don’t forget to be brave, and Stay smiling. At its core, the program focuses on relaxation, cognitive restructuring, attention training, problem solving, and graded exposure to situations that can produce anxiety.

Fun FRIENDS is a manualized program with day-long, intensive training available for teacher facilitators. While the program content and processes are formalized, teachers have the opportunity to personalize delivery of each session. The program also includes two parent sessions, coinciding with the fourth and seventh weeks of the in-class lessons. In the parent sessions, parents learn about child anxiety, social and emotional competence, and resilience. Along with the parent sessions, take-home workbooks provided to each student facilitate home implementation and family support of skills taught in Fun FRIENDS.

EVALUATION(S) OF PROGRAM

Anticich, S. A., Barrett, P. M., Silverman, W., Lacherez, P., & Gillies, R. (2013). The prevention of childhood anxiety and promotion of resilience among preschool-aged children: a universal school based trial. Advances in school mental health promotion6(2), 93-121.

Evaluated population: Fourteen Catholic Education preschools and primary schools in and around Brisbane, Australia participated in this evaluation, resulting in a study sample made up of 488 children between the ages of 4 and 7. Children were 5.42 years old on average. The majority of children (76.5 percent) came from households earning more than $60,000 (Australian dollars) per year, while 3.3 percent came from households earning less than $30,000. There were more girls (n = 271) than boys (n = 217) in the sample.

Approach: Participating schools were recruited via email correspondence, matched on socio-economic status, and randomly assigned to one of three groups: an intervention group receiving Fun FRIENDS, an active control group receiving an in-school, socio-emotional development curriculum called You Can Do It, and a waitlist control group. Pre-test, post-test, and twelve-month follow-up data were collected via survey from parents and teachers. Both respondent groups provided data to form scales measuring children’s behavioral and emotional functioning, behavioral difficulties, behavioral inhibition, and protective factors such as initiative and self-control, and parents additionally provided data on parenting stress levels, measured by subscales of parental distress, parent-child dysfunctional interaction, and perceptions of child difficulty. At baseline, the waitlist control group had significantly higher behavioral and emotional functioning scores and behavioral inhibition than the other groups, and greater levels of behavioral difficulties than the Fun FRIENDS group, while the active control group had significantly higher levels of behavioral inhibition than the Fun FRIENDS group; this was controlled for in the data analysis. Analyses only included cases that had completed all three assessments (n=288), and 15 cases that were missing on more than 30 percent of their data were also excluded from the analysis. Mixed-effects models accounted for clustering in the analyses.

Results: At post-test and follow-up, children in the Fun FRIENDS group improved significantly compared to children in the two control groups for behavioral and emotional strength and behavioral inhibition. While all groups significantly improved across time in terms of behavioral difficulties, children in the Fun FRIENDS and active control groups made significantly greater improvements than those in the waitlist group from pre-test to post-test. However, there was no significant difference in the improvements made by the Fun FRIENDS group and the active control group from pre-test to post-test. From post-test to follow-up, neither the Fun FRIENDS group nor the active control group improved significantly in behavioral difficulties compared to the waitlist control group, but children in the Fun FRIENDS group did demonstrate significantly greater improvements than those in the active control group.

When examining sub-samples of children in the Fun FRIENDS group with high and low baseline levels of anxiety, improvements across time were found to be greater for high-anxiety children than for low-anxiety children. Parent- and teacher-rated protective factors increased significantly across time for children in the Fun FRIENDS group, but not for children in the other two groups; parents reported significantly larger improvements than teachers. No significant impact was found on levels of parental distress.

SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION

References

Anticich, S. A., Barrett, P. M., Silverman, W., Lacherez, P., & Gillies, R. (2013). The prevention of childhood anxiety and promotion of resilience among preschool-aged children: a universal school based trial. Advances in school mental health promotion6(2), 93-121.

Website: http://www.funfriends.org.nz/

KEYWORDS: Children (3-11), Preschool, Kindergarten, Elementary, Males and Females (Co-ed), School-based, Manual, Parent of Family Component, Early Childhood Education, Anxiety Disorders/Symptoms

Program information last updated 4/8/2015.

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