Strong families, strong children:
family-focused crime prevention program
William Morrison, Cynthia Doucet, Clare Archibald & Tracy
The SFSC initiative is a community-based crime
prevention program that addresses the needs of families with at-risk children
between the ages of 5 and 12. In the fall of 1999, the National Crime
Prevention Centre, in conjunction with. W. Morrison & Associates, undertook a
three year evaluation of this program. Process evaluation outcomes from this
study indicated a strong degree of convergence between the proposed program
design and the actual application of this initiative in the community. Interim
outcome evaluation results also highlighted decreases in child behavioral
opposition, and lower levels of stress related to parent-child interactions.
Lessons learned related to the program‘s implementations are also discussed.
The following summary provides an overview of the Strong
Families Strong Children initiative and various research highlights from the
interim evaluation report submitted to the National Crime Prevention Centre by
W. Morrison & Associates Inc one year following the program‘s implementation.
The final three-year evaluation report was completed in December 2003
(W. Morrison & Associates, 2003).
In 1999, Moncton Youth Residences Inc. received funding from the Crime
Prevention Council of Canada to implement the Strong Families Strong Children
(SFSC) program in the South-East Region of New Brunswick. In the Greater Moncton
area, there are early stimulation and Headstart programs available for
pre-school children; however, similar prevention programs have not been
accessible for children 5 to 12 years of age (Bourque, Bradshaw, Cormier;
Morrison & Perry, 2000). The SFSC ‘ initiative was proposed as a cost-effective
crime prevention model to meet this identified service-need area. The intent of
this service is to promote competent parenting, increase positive family
interactions, and to address specific behavioural features in children that
impede their successful functioning in home and community settings. More
specifically, the services are designed to:
develop a collaborative working relationship with
provide high-risk children and their parents with the
support and resources they need to address their present challenges and
strengthen the relationships between families, schools,
and the community;
encourage partnerships among police, community
professionals, and agencies in the delivery of services;
provide an effective service model for crime prevention
that may be replicated or adapted for implementation in other communities.
The intended outcomes for this program are to build richer
relationships and improved communication within families with fewer children
being placed in care, and eventually, less youth crime in the Greater Moncton
Key indicators or variables were monitored during the initial program
implementation to investigate the functioning and progress of children and
families in the SFSC program. These included:
Developmental and health considerations
Behavioural and emotional functioning
Family cohesion and organization
Basic living conditions
Data gathered relevant to these indicators of child and
family functioning, both during and upon participants‘ completion of the
program, provided the basis from which to examine the impact of this crime
The SFSC program offers an array of supports that are coordinated through an
individualized service plan designed to meet the specific needs of each family.
‘The average duration of the program for each family is 9 months. The key
activities and interventions offered by the SFSC program are as follows.
Family In-Home Support
This program is an in-home intervention service intended to enhance the
functioning and cohesion of the family. Family Workers meet with each family
once a week for one to two hours. The purpose of this service is to prevent
unnecessary out-of-home placements and to promote positive parent-child
interactions. This service assists families in identifying their challenges and
strengths, and leads to the development and implementation of a personalized
Family Nurturing for Parents and Children
The goal of this activity is to foster close and positive family
interactions. This program component is based on a 12-week curriculum offered
one and a half hours per week. Concurrent sessions are held for parents and
children. Some central themes dealt with in these sessions are praise and
affirmation, fostering autonomy, self-esteem, basic needs, choices and
consequences, communication, and anger management.
Luncheons are intended to serve as a follow-tip to the Family Nurturing
Program. During these meeting times, parents have the opportunity to share their
concerns and successes. Presentations are structured to include both skill
development and sharing activities. Parent Luncheons are held every second
Wednesday of the month.
Social Skills for the Prevention of Aggressive Behaviours
This 12-session program component is designed to foster the development of
pro-social skills W children. Sessions are held once per week for 1
½ hours and include two social skills groups, one for
5 to 8 year-olds and another for children 9 to 12 years of age. Stories,
discussions, role-plays, games, and arts and crafts are used to complement the
curriculum that addresses such topics as expressing feelings, listening, and
Family Fun Times
Family Fun Times are organized to provide families with a forum in which to
engage in positive and nurturing interactions. This program component is
undertaken once each month and involves an activity in the local community that
may subsequently be repeated by families on their own.
Family Resources Lending Library
A lending library, comprised of an assortment of books, games, videos, and
specialized resources serves to support and enhance the family interventions and
educational services of the SFSC program. Parents and their children are
encouraged to borrow pertinent resources during their participation in the
program. The Resource Lending Library provides information on the following
topics: feelings, bullying, self-esteem, family violence, divorce, dealing with
loss, anger, and parenting.
INTERIM PROCESS EVALUATION HIGHLIGHTS
Preliminary process data was gathered during the first year of the program‘s
implementation (W. Morrison & Associates, 2002b). Research activities included
the development of a baseline family profile, completion of participant
satisfaction questionnaires, and administration of interviews with program
personnel and community service providers.
Baseline family profile
The children in the program ranged from 5 to 12 years of
age and often were living in a single-parent family.
Recent parental concerns that were noted included moving,
divorce or separation, and death or illness in the family.
Approximately 40% of participant families accessed income
assistance, just over 50% of them having a monthly income between $1000 and
Parents rated their children‘s academic performance as
below average. On the Canada Quick Individual Educational Test, mean
achievement results for spelling, arithmetic, and passage comprehension ranged
from below average to the low average range.
With respect to behavioural functioning, parents‘ noted
concerns for their children often included inattention, anger, impulsiveness,
and aggression. On the standardized Child Behaviour Checklist (CBCL),
aggressive and oppositional behaviour was reported in the borderline to
clinical range. The Parenting Stress Index (PSI) results indicated that the
majority of the children exhibited behaviours that were stressful for the
Parents reported a need for assistance with identification
and implementation of effective parenting strategies. The results of the PSI
indicated that many parents conveyed feelings of being “overwhelmed” by their
child‘s behaviour and had a desire to increase their practical knowledge of
child management skills to address areas of immediate concern.
Client satisfaction interviews
The majority of parents agreed that the service had
assisted in their child‘s development of intrapersonal (confidence and
expressiveness) and interpersonal (getting along with other children and
Many parents noted that the SFSC program had had a notable
positive impact on their families and was helpful for enhancing family
Parents reported that their participation in the SFSC
program had been beneficial for improving their discipline strategies and in
re-establishing a sense of hope.
Relationships between the families and program staff were
generally described as open and encouraging.
Community service provider interviews
Local community service providers indicated that they
perceived the primary goals of the SFSC program to include enhancing parent
effectiveness, fostering positive family interactions, and providing
The SFSC program was perceived as a necessary service and
one that could be potentially effective in supporting crime prevention efforts
in the community.
INTERIM OUTCOME EVALUATION HIGHLIGHTS
The purpose of the interim outcome evaluation was to examine potential areas
of change in the functioning of children and families who had participated in
the SFSC program during the first year of the initiative. For this aspect of the
report, a control group comparison was undertaken (W. Morrison & Associates,
2002a). Control group participants included families who had previously been
involved with a Headstart program in the same region.
Three analyses were undertaken:
Baseline comparison of SFSC group with the Headstart
Baseline and post-program changes for the SFSC group
Comparison of change over time (1 year) between the SFSC
group and the control group
The initial analysis revealed that the Headstart group
provided a reasonable comparison group appropriate for further analysis. The
second outcome analysis indicated positive changes associated with the
functioning of SFSC participants following their involvement in the program.
With respect to child functioning, there were noted decreases in behavioural
opposition and misconduct. Similarly, parental concerns regarding areas of
behavioural difficulties also decreased. Areas of overall stress related to
parent-child interactions also declined. In addition, following their
participation in the program, parents conveyed a higher level of belief in their
own abilities to parent effectively.
The third analysis entailed an examination of the degree of
change in both the SFSC treatment group and the Headstart control group. In
comparison to the control group, the SFSC group improved more on measures of
delinquency and acting-out behaviours. Parents of both groups reported less
stress overall related to parent-child interactions. Improvements were also
noted for the SFSC group with respect to less frequent peer associations that
involved misbehaviour and misconduct.
LESSONS LEARNED DURING THE FIRST YEAR OF IMPLEMENTATION
As a result of the evaluation process, program personnel and
members of the research evaluation team reported various key insights related to
the initial implementation of the program. Some of the preliminary lessons
learned included the following.
Provide new workers with an orientation that incorporates
both theoretical and practical training components prior to their involvement in
the program. For new family program workers, orientation processes should be
in place and should incorporate clinical concepts relating to knowledge of
criminogenic factors, family intervention, and competency-based methods.
Identify areas of family strength, interest, and potential that may be useful
for subsequent case planning. At the outset of the case planning process,
exploration of interest areas, personal preferences, and strengths are important
considerations. Such interactions facilitate the development of a positive
working relationship and allow for the identification of points of connection
that may be useful in community and school-based planning.
Maintain positive and hopeful family meetings.
Individual family meetings should be kept positive and always conclude by
providing increased hope for family members. Debriefing and venting are
important aspects of family meeting times; however, identifying small-step
successes, exploring areas of strength and interest, and setting attainable
goals help facilitate both hope and a sense of optimism in meeting daily
Seek clinical consultation as part of initial baseline
data-gathering efforts. Clinical consultation is most useful when it is part
of the initial data gathering with the family. Early identification of
strengths, challenges, and areas of clinical concern permits interventions to be
tailored to the needs of the individual family. At times, such consultation is a
key consideration in linking families with additional and more intensive
services should they be required.
Address basic need concerns prior to the implementation
of other family interventions. For several families, basic food and shelter
needs were areas of concern. In these instances, the linking of families with
specific community support agencies to address these basic needs was a priority
action for the various family workers. In this regard, addressing basic needs
was an important first consideration prior to developing or implementing plans
for other areas of change.
Use activity-based and time-limited, skill-building
sessions for children. Many of the activities designed for use in the Social
Skills and Family Nurturing groups were adapted to ensure increased
participation of the children who attended these programs. In addition to
providing two age group options, program components included hands-on activities
that incorporated interesting content and that were brief in duration.
Facilitate collaborative planning between parents and
school personnel in addressing academic concerns. For several
families, involvement of the family worker in establishing links with the school
was an important consideration. Clarifying areas of concern, identifying
approaches for making contact, and working with school personnel were often key
deliberations undertaken during family meetings. In addition, attendance of the
worker with the parent at specific school meetings was considered both
supportive and encouraging for parents during their initial communications with
teachers and school staff.
Encourage ongoing program review and professional
reflection among SFSC staff. A few times a year, staff should have the
opportunity to review and reflect upon the various programs, client dynamics,
and group programs that have characterized the last several months of service
delivery. During the past year, a focus group format was employed to elicit key
themes related to program implementation and challenges, client concerns and
needs, and how areas of difficulty were worked through. This reflection process
was viewed as important for mobilizing staff to identify key insights that might
be helpful for fostering continued enhanced practice and program planning.
Sustain the SFSC initiative by increasing community
awareness of the program and its value as an early intervention crime prevention
initiative. The initial support for the program has been quite positive;
however, there are still many agencies that have not yet become acquainted with
this family intervention program. Ideally, the research outcomes from this
program evaluation should provide a valuable source of information from which to
promote community awareness regarding the relevance and potential effectiveness
of this community crime prevention program.
Bourque, P., Bradshaw, D., Cormier, P., Morrison, W., & Perry, M. (2000).
The Moncton Headstart Evaluation Project: Final Report. Ottawa, ON:
Department of Justice.
W. Morrison & Associates. (2003). Evaluation of the
Moncton Youth Residences Strong Families Strong Children Project: final
evaluation report. Department of Justice, Canada.
W. Morrison & Associates (2002a). Evaluation of the
Moncton Youth Residences Strong Families Strong Children Project: Interim
outcome analysis report. Department of Justice, Canada.
W. Morrison & Associates (2002b). Evaluation of the
Moncton Youth Residences Strong Families Strong Children Project: Interim
process analysis report. Department of Justice, Canada
Strong families strong children: a family-focused crime prevention program. Journal
of Child and Youth Care Work. Vol. 19,
This feature: Morrison, W., Doucet, C.,
Archibald, C., & Cormier, T