Testing the Efficacy of an Ecological Approach to Family Intervention and Treatment During Early Elementary School to Prevent Problem Behavior and Improve Academic Outcomes
Purpose: The transition to elementary school is a critical time for the development of key skills that are necessary for school success, including sustained attention, self-regulation, initiating and sustaining successful peer relationships, and academic competence. Unfortunately for many children at risk for learning and behavior problems, this transition can be difficult and may lead to early academic problems, which in turn can lead to more severe forms of problem behavior and learning difficulties later in school. On the other hand, parent support at home is associated with school readiness indicators that predict successful adaptation to the school context. The Family Check-Up (FCU) intervention, a three-tiered system of intervention, is designed to leverage the role of parent support in adaptation to school by increasing parenting skills and academic success and decreasing behavior problems. FCU has been successful in early childhood and adolescence, but no studies have examined the critical transition period of entry to kindergarten. The purpose of this study is to conduct the first randomized trial of FCU during the transition into elementary school, and examine the impact on behavioral and academic outcomes for students at risk for learning and behavior problems.
Project Activities: Across two school years, two cohorts of kindergarten students will be randomly assigned to the intervention or comparison conditions. The first tier or universal component of FCU (i.e., activities designed to facilitate systems-level organization and support for family-school partnerships) will be offered to all families in the intervention group regardless of risk. Recruitment efforts for the second and third tiers of intervention will target families with children at higher risk of behaviors or learning problems indicated by risk assessment at kindergarten entry. These interventions target child skills through family management (e.g., positive daily routines) and tailored interventions for individual child/family needs (e.g., literacy support for parents with home-to-school behavior support, community referrals and resources). FCU will be implemented across the kindergarten year, and assessment of outcomes will take place over the course of three years – kindergarten, first grade, and second grade, to determine whether impacts found during the kindergarten year as sustained through early elementary school. The researchers will explore moderators (e.g., family engagement) and mediators (e.g., parenting skills, children’s self-regulation) of intervention response, and will also conduct a cost analysis of the FCU program.
Products: The products of this project include evidence of the efficacy of the FCU intervention for young students entering kindergarten. Peer-reviewed publications will also be produced.
Setting: This project will take place in nine elementary schools in an urban/suburban setting in Oregon.
Sample: The sample will include 560 kindergarten students and their families.
Intervention: The Family Check-Up (FCU) involves three tiers of intervention and is implemented over the course of a school year. The first level consists of universal components, such as brochures and information about family-to-school planning and skills, which will be offered to all families in the intervention group. The second level focuses on caregivers promoting self-regulation and academic skills in their children by using skilled family management to encourage positive daily routines and provide behavior support. The FCU does this through motivational interviewing and parent meetings with a parent consultant (PC) who builds a collaborative relationship with families and will guide them through the intervention. These meetings build parent relationships with the school, assess various aspects of the home environment (e.g. parenting skills, child behavior, life stressors), and provide specific, strengths-based feedback to the family. The third, or indicated, level is designed to guide decisions about subsequent services and to tailor additional interventions: e.g., continued positive behavior support for daily routines, early literacy support for parents, and community referrals and resources.
Control Condition: Students and families in the control condition will receive standard services.
Research Design and Methods: Across two school years, all entering kindergarten students will be randomly assigned to the intervention or comparison conditions, resulting in 2 cohorts of students. The universal component of FCU will be offered to all families in the intervention group, and recruitment efforts will include a home visit to explain to establish rapport with the family. Recruitment efforts for the second and third tiers of intervention will target families with children at higher risk of or behaviors or learning problems indicated by risk assessment at kindergarten entry.
The research aims include (1) testing the efficacy FCU in comparison with a randomly assigned control condition for reducing the growth of behavior problems and academic problems in early elementary school; (2) testing the efficacy of the FCU on the proposed mediators in this model, including parenting skills, children’s self-regulation, and early literacy skills in early elementary school; and (3) understanding moderating factors related to engagement of families in the intervention and successful school adaptation, including behavioral adjustment and academic competence. The research team will track services received in and out of schools by families in the intervention and comparison groups. A portion of FCU sessions will be videotaped to assess fidelity of implementation. Assessments of outcomes will take place over the course of three years – kindergarten, first grade, and second grade – to determine longitudinal effects of treatment.
Key Measures: A variety of measures will be used to assess outcomes in the following domains: family sociocultural contexts and resources, student behavioral regulation and academic competence, and family management and parent-school involvement. The research team will use multiple informants (parents, teachers, observers) and multiple methods (e.g., questionnaires, interviews, observations). Measures of family sociocultural contexts and resources include family demographic information, the Financial Stress Questionnaire, Holmes and Rahe Stressful Life Events Inventory, Parent Substance Use Questionnaire, Patient Health Questionnaire Depression Screener, General Anxiety Disorders Screener, Dyadic Adjustment Scale (parental relationship satisfaction) and the Family Conflict Scale. Measures of student behavioral regulation and academic competence include the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Literacy Skills (DIBELS) literacy and academic competence scales, Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, and Teacher Monthly Report of problem behavior. In addition, the research team will conduct observational measures of Academic Engaged Time. Family management and parent-school involvement will be assessed via the Parental Monitoring Interview and Parent Involvement Scale as measures of positive behavioral support. In addition, videotaped home observations will be used to assess quality of parent-child relationship, parenting skills, and academic support at home. The Family Satisfaction Questionnaire and Teacher Satisfaction Questionnaire will be used to assess caregiver and parent treatment satisfaction.
Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will analyze treatment effects comparing both conditions across time using latent growth curve modeling. To determine effects of students being nested within schools, researchers will use fixed-effects models to estimate the impact of random assignment to FCU. If school nesting is a significant factor, multilevel modeling procedures will be conducted using hierarchical linear modeling and multilevel structural equation modeling. Researchers will also analyze effects of moderators such as family conflict levels, peer effects, parent engagement in the intervention, and family structure (e.g. single parent). Parent engagement and its impact on results will be analyzed using complier average causal effect (CASE) modeling.