U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Home-Based Behavioral Systems Family Therapy



Home-Based Behavioral Systems Family Therapy is used with families of juvenile offenders, between 6 and 18 years of age, and those at risk for juvenile offending and substance abuse. It is a brief, structured model delivered in five phases by paraprofessionals and professionals in the homes of at-risk families. The orientation is psychoeducational and relies on reducing families’ defensiveness, assessing their needs coincident with healthy family relationships, and skills training for parents and teens. Technical aids such as the Parenting Wisely CD program and videotapes are used at the beginning of treatment to increase commitment to the therapy as well as decrease time in treatment.

The five phases of the program are (1) introduction/credibility, (2) assessment, (3) therapy, (4) education, and (5) generalization/termination. In the early phases, therapists are less directive and more supportive and empathic than in the later phases, when the family’s cooperation and resistance are more conducive to increased therapist directiveness. This adapted model has been applied to multiple offending, institutionalized delinquents and targets families with lower educational levels and higher levels of pathology than the original Functional Family Therapy Model developed. Modifications were made for families in Appalachia and for inner-city, African-American families.

Long-range objectives include reduced child involvement in the juvenile justice system, reduced self-reported delinquency, reduced teen pregnancy, reduced special-class placement, increased graduation rates, and increased employment. Intermediate objectives include decreased family conflict; increased cohesion; improved communication; improved parental monitoring, discipline, and support of appropriate child behavior; improved problem-solving abilities; improved parent-school communication; improved school attendance and grades; and improved child adjustment.

The first evaluation of this program was based on treatment of twenty-seven 14- to 16-year-old, court-selected delinquents who were considered likely to recidivate and/or to be placed out of the home. After a 2- to 2½-year follow-up period, recidivism for the treatment group was 11 percent versus 67 percent for the control group. The subjects in this study were followed for another 32 months into adulthood. The treatment group showed a 9 percent recidivism rate for criminal offenses versus 45 percent for the control group. The second evaluation was conducted with 40 juveniles referred to the treatment program because they were the most serious, chronic offenders in the county. Upon an average of 18 months following the end of treatment, 30 percent of treated delinquents reoffended and 12 percent required another institutional commitment. A constructed statistical control group, based upon risk of recidivating, would be expected to have a 60–75 percent recidivism rate and a recommitment rate of 50–60 percent.

Risk Factors


Antisocial/delinquent beliefs

Early and persistent noncompliant behavior

Early onset of aggression/violence

General delinquency involvement


Low intelligence quotient


Antisocial parents

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

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

Sibling antisocial behavior

Unhappy parents


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

Poor student-teacher relations

Student failure in the first grade


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Effective program


Jack Arbuthnot, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
Ohio University
226 Porter Hall
Athens, OH 45701
Phone: (740) 597-1964
Fax: (740) 593-0579
E-mail: [email protected]


Gordon, D. A., and Arbuthnot, J. (1987). “Individual, Group and Family Interventions.” In Herbert C. Q. (ed.), Handbook of Juvenile Delinquency. New York: John Wiley & Sons, pp. 295–324.

Date Created: April 7, 2021