Family-Like Environment Better for Troubled Children and Teens

The Teaching-Family Model changes bad behavior through straight talk and loving relationships.

Findings

In the late 1960's, psychologists Elaine Phillips, Elery Phillips, Dean Fixsen, and Montrose Wolf developed an empirically tested treatment program to help troubled children and juvenile offenders who had been assigned to residential group homes. These researchers combined the successful components of their studies into the Teaching-Family Model, which offers a structured treatment regimen in a family-like environment. The model is built around a married couple (teaching-parents) that lives with children in a group home and teaches them essential interpersonal and living skills. Not only have teaching parents' behaviors and techniques been assessed for their effectiveness, but they have also been empirically tested for whether children like them. Teaching-parents also work with the children's parents, teachers, employers, and peers to ensure support for the children's positive changes. Although more research is needed, preliminary results suggest that, compared to children in other residential treatment programs, children in Teaching-Family Model centers have fewer contacts with police and courts, lower dropout rates, and improved school grades and attendance.

Couples are selected to be teaching-parents based on their ability to provide individualized and affirming care. Teaching-parents then undergo an intensive year-long training process. In order to maintain their certification, teaching-parents and Teaching-Family Model organizations are evaluated every year, and must meet the rigorous standards set by the Teaching-Family Association.

Significance

The Teaching-Family Model is one of the few evidence-based residential treatment programs for troubled children. In the past, many treatment programs viewed delinquency as an illness, and therefore placed children in institutions for medical treatment. The Teaching-Family Model, in contrast, views children's behavior problems as stemming from their lack of essential interpersonal relationships and skills. Accordingly, the Teaching-Family Model provides children with these relationships and teaches them these skills, using empirically validated methods. With its novel view of problem behavior and its carefully tested and disseminated treatment program, the Teaching-Family Model has helped to transform the treatment of behavioral problems from impersonal interventions at large institutions to caring relationships in home and community settings. The Teaching-Family Model has also demonstrated how well-researched treatment programs can be implemented on a large scale. Most importantly, the Teaching-Family Model has given hope that young people with even the most difficult problems or behaviors can improve the quality of their lives and make contributions to society.

Practical Application

In recent years, the Teaching-Family Model has been expanded to include foster care facilities, home treatment settings, and even schools. The Teaching-Family Model has also been adapted to accommodate the needs of physically, emotionally, and sexually abused children; emotionally disturbed and autistic children and adults; medically fragile children; and adults with disabilities. Successful centers that have been active for over 30 years include the Bringing it All Back Home Study Center in North Carolina, the Houston Achievement Place in Texas, and the Girls and Boys Town in Nebraska. Other Teaching-Family Model organizations are in Alberta (Canada), Arkansas, Hawaii, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Cited Research

Fixsen, D. L. & Blase, K. A. (1993). Creating new realities: Program development and dissemination. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Vol. 26, pp. 597-615.

Fixsen, D. L., Blase, K. A., Timbers, G. D., & Wolf, M. M. (2001). In search of program implementation: 792 replications of the Teaching-Family Model. In G. A. Bernfeld, D. P. Farrington, & A. W. Leschied (Eds.), Offender rehabilitation in practice: Implementing and evaluating effective programs (pp. 149-166). London: Wiley.

Phillips, E. L., Phillips, E. A., Fixsen, D. L., & Wolf, M. M. (1973, June). Behavior Shaping Works for Delinquents. Psychology Today, 7, 75-79.

Willner, A. G., Braukmann, C. J., Kirigin, K. A., Fixsen, D. L., Phillips, E. L., & Wolf, M. M. (1977). The training and validation of youth-preferred social behaviors of child-care personnel. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Vol. 10, pp. 219-230.

Wolf, M. M., Kirigin, K. A. Fixsen, D. L., Blase, K. A., & Braukmann, C. J. (1995). The Teaching-Family Model: A case study in data-based program development and refinement (and dragon wrestling). Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, Vol. 15, pp. 11 - 68.


American Psychological Association, December 15, 2003