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Schools And Families Educating Children (SAFEChildren)



Schools And Families Educating Children (SAFEChildren) is a family-focused preventive intervention designed to increase academic achievement and decrease risk for later drug abuse and associated problems such as aggression, school failure, and low social competence. Initially targeting first-grade children and their families living in inner-city Chicago neighborhoods, SAFEChildren has two components. The first component is a multiple-family group approach that focuses on parenting skills, family relationships, understanding and managing developmental and situational challenges, increasing parental support, skills and issues in engaging as a parent with the school, and managing issues such as neighborhood problems (e.g., violence). Families participate in 20 weekly sessions (2 to 2.5 hours each) led by a trained, professional family group leader. The second component is a reading tutoring program for the child. Each tutoring session involves segments on phonics, sound and word activities, and reading books. Tutoring is provided twice weekly (one 30-minute and one 20-minute session) over 20 weeks, using a modified version of the Wallach program. The program serves both genders and Black and Hispanic/Latino children.

Children who received the intervention improved in overall reading ability at a more rapid rate than did those who did not receive the intervention. Among families designated as high-risk, there was a significantly greater improvement in parental monitoring for those who received the SAFEChildren intervention than for those who did not receive the intervention. Among high-risk children (having high levels of problem behaviors at pretest), SAFEChildren participants showed a decrease in aggression, whereas those who did not receive the intervention had a slight increase in aggression.

Risk Factors


Antisocial/delinquent beliefs

Conduct disorders (authority conflict/rebellious/stubborn/disruptive/antisocial)

Early and persistent noncompliant behavior

Early onset of aggression/violence

General delinquency involvement

High alcohol/drug use


Lack of guilt and empathy

Low intelligence quotient

Low perceived likelihood of being caught

Mental health problems

Poor refusal skills

Victim of child maltreatment

Victimization and exposure to violence


Abusive parents

Antisocial parents

Broken home/changes in caretaker

Child maltreatment (abuse or neglect)

Family poverty/low family socioeconomic status

Family violence (child maltreatment, partner violence, conflict)

High parental stress/maternal depression

Lived/living with a gang member

Parent proviolent attitudes

Parental use of physical punishment/harsh and/or erratic discipline practices

Poor parental supervision (control, monitoring, and child management)

Poor parent-child relations or communication

Unhappy parents



Frequent school transitions

Frequent truancy/absences/suspensions; expelled from school; dropping out of school

Identified as learning disabled

Low academic aspirations

Low achievement in school

Low school attachment/bonding/motivation/commitment to school

Old for grade/repeated a grade

Poor student-teacher relations

Poorly defined rules and expectations for appropriate conduct

Student failure in the first grade

Unsafe schools


Availability of firearms

Community disorganization

Economic deprivation/poverty/residence in a disadvantaged neighborhood

Feeling unsafe in the neighborhood

Low neighborhood attachment

Moved to a new neighborhood

Neighborhood youth in trouble


Association with antisocial/aggressive/delinquent peers; high peer delinquency

Peer rejection


National Registry of Effective Programs and Practices: Effective program

National Gang Center: Effective program

National Dropout Prevention Center/Network, Clemson University: Effective program

SAMHSA’s Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies (2016): Effective program


Patrick H. Tolan Ph.D.
Director, Youth-Nex | The UVA Center to Promote Effective Youth Development
Professor, Curry School of Education and Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences
One Morton Drive, Room 300-12
Charlottesville, VA 22903
Phone: (434) 243-9551
E-mail: [email protected]
Web site: https://education.virginia.edu/patrick-h-tolan


Gorman-Smith, D., Tolan, P. H., Henry, D. B., Leventhal, A., Schoeny, M., Lutovsky, K., and Quintana, E. (2002). Predictors of participation in a family-focused preventive intervention for substance use. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 16(Suppl. 4), S55–S64.

Tolan, P., Gorman-Smith, D., and Henry, D. (2004). Supporting families in a high-risk setting: Proximal effects of the SAFEChildren preventive intervention. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72, 855–869.

Date Created: April 7, 2021