Program

Mar 20, 2015

OVERVIEW

Making Choices and Strong Families is an in-school program for preschoolers from high risk families (Making Choices), supplemented with a separate component for parents (Strong Families).  The program provides social–emotional skills training for children that focuses on improving the children’s social information processing (SIP) and emotion regulation skills. The group-based parenting education component teaches parents about child development and discipline.  Parents also receive services to help them address basic family needs, such as nutrition, health care, and job skills.  An experimental study found statistically significant positive impacts for children who received the program on: academic competence, social competence, peer acceptance and relationships, school performance, depression, and relationship with caregivers, compared to children in the control group.  Statistically significant positive impacts for caregivers who received the program were found for: bonding, supervision, communication with child, and developmental expectations, compared to those in the control group.

DESCRIPTION OF PROGRAM

Target population:  Preschool children from families in neighborhoods with high poverty, high social isolation, weak physical infrastructure, and high crime

Making Choices is intended to prevent aggressive behavior in preschool children.  The program’s child component focuses on improving preschool children’s social-information processing (SIP) and emotional-regulation skills through social-emotional skills training, while the family intervention component focuses on increasing parents’ knowledge of child development and positive discipline through group-based training.  Although Making Choices was originally designed for elementary-aged children, lessons were adapted for preschool-age children (a manual was prepared and used).  Divided into units, the curriculum lessons have specific skill-related goals and activities and although they maintain the core SIP focus, images and stories are fitted to participants’ cultures of origin. Lessons are delivered in small groups that meet two times per week for 14 weeks, with each session lasting 20 minutes.  Parents receiving the program attend weekly group sessions, each 45 minutes in length, of the Strong Families curriculum.  Each session is led by a site-specific family coordinator, a trained lay person from the community with at least 2 years experience in the position.

EVALUATION OF PROGRAM

Conner, N.W., Fraser, M.W. (2014). Preschool social–emotional skills training: A controlled pilot test of the Making Choices and Strong Families programs. Research on Social Work Practice, 21, 699-711.

Evaluated Population: A total of 104 children and their caregivers were recruited from four preschools in high-risk neighborhoods within a large Southern metropolitan area.  The sample was nearly evenly divided between males (52 percent) and females (48 percent), and about three quarters (77.9 percent) of the children were African American. All caregivers were enrolled in Work First, a program providing temporary assistance to needy families to help them stay off welfare by supplying limited cash benefits, child care, food stamps and Medicaid for up to three months.  The incomes of all families fell below the poverty level and all families lived in public housing.

An invitation to participate in the study was issued to four preschools in an alliance serving children and families located in neighborhoods with high poverty, high social isolation, weak physical infrastructure, and high crime.  All preschools used the  High Scope preschool curriculum and had an average child to teacher ratio of 1:6, with all classrooms including a lead teacher and an assistant teacher.  One preschool had a high percentage of Latino children whose primary language was Spanish; the faculty in this school was bilingual and bicultural.  Upon enrollment at the beginning of the academic year, the 3- to 4-year-old children and their primary caregivers were provided with details about the study.  All were invited to participate and all agreed to be part of the study.

Approach:  The children and their caretakers from two preschools with enrollments of only six or seven children were randomly assigned, at the school level, to receive the program in the fall semester, or to a waitlist control group that would receive the program in the spring semester.  At the remaining two preschools, with larger enrollments, children within each school were randomly assigned to receive the program in the fall or to a waitlist control group that would receive the program in the spring semester.  Participants were randomly assigned to an intervention (n=31) or a waitlist control (n=36) condition.  A bilingual teacher led sessions for Spanish-speaking children.  A second year master’s social work student and a master’s-level teacher co-facilitated the children’s Making Choices groups at each site.  Both co-facilitators attended trainings led by the university research team.  A social work doctoral student provided weekly supervision for co-facilitators.  The parent group sessions were usually provided at noon and to encourage participation, a simple lunch was provided for participants.  Preschool services were provided as part of the Work First program to enable caregivers, all of whom were in the Work First program, to fulfill mandatory work or job-training requirements.  Program materials were translated into Spanish and a bilingual program specialist delivered the program to Spanish-speaking parents.

Baseline data were collected from both groups in the fall, and post-program data were collected on both child and caregiver/parent behaviors. Parent-report and child assessment scales were used to assess outcomes at the family and child levels.  The play-based Berkeley Puppet Interview (BPI) was used to assess child academic competence, achievement motivation, social competence, peer acceptance, depression-anxiety, and aggression/hostility.  Family functioning and child behavior were assessed using the preschool version of the North Carolina Family Assessment Scale (NCFAS), which included measures of environment, social support, family characteristics, family interaction, child well-being, program participation, and community connections.  After working with families and making home visits, NCFAS was completed by an on-site family coordinator. In addition, NCFAS has item-level measures of child behavior (at home and school), school performance (including behavior at school), child relationship with caregivers, and child relationship with peers.

Of the original 104 children and their consenting caregivers, 37 families were lost  to data collection before treatment assignment.  The families of 67 children completed the pre-test.  On average, caregivers attended about 75 percent of Strong Families sessions (ranging between 45 and 95 percent) and children attended about 82 percent of Making Choices lessons (with a range of 75 to 100 percent). No significant differences in attendance by parents or children were observed by race/ethnicity or site.

Members of the program, waitlist control, and drop-out groups did not differ significantly on gender or age.  The groups did, however, differ on race/ethnicity; there were significantly more Latino and significantly fewer African American children who received the program than who were in the control group.  The majority of the children in the control group were African American (91.6 percent), whereas the program group contained a lower percentage of African American children (58.1 percent).

Results:  The study found statistically significant positive impacts on the gain scores of children in the group receiving the program compared to those in the control group on academic competence,  social competence, peer acceptance, peer relationships, depression, school performance, relationship with caregivers, and aggressive behavior, with an overall effect size of 0.353.  On average, children in the intervention group demonstrated a reduction in aggressive behavior whereas children in the comparison group demonstrated increased aggressive behaviors.  The study also found statistically significant positive impacts on caretaker gain scores for the program group on parental bonding), child supervision, communication, and developmental expectations, compared to the control group, with an overall effect size of 0.361.  Overall, the effect sizes found are modest and in the medium range.

Even though the sample sizes were small, tests were conducted to compare the gain scores of African American children who participated in the intervention and the children in the waitlist control.  Children and their caretakers receiving the program differed significantly on 13 of 14 outcomes from those in the control group; for parents the overall effect size was 0.430, and for the children the effect size was 0.470.

SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION

Reference

Conner, N.W., Fraser, M.W. (2014). Preschool social–emotional skills training: A controlled pilot test of the Making Choices and Strong Families programs. Research on Social Work Practice, 21, 699-711.

KEYWORDS: Children (3-11), Preschool, Males and Females, Urban, School-based, Community-based, Parent or family component, Skills Training, Early Childhood Education, Conduct/Disruptive Disorders, Social Skills/Life Skills, Aggression

Program information last updated on3/9/2015.