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Is the Strengthening Families Programme feasible in Europe?

Gregor Burkhart (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Interventions, Policies and Best Practice Unit, Lisbon, Portugal)

Journal of Children's Services

ISSN: 1746-6660

Article publication date: 15 June 2015




The purpose of this paper is to provide insights into the potential of technology transfer in prevention interventions. It argues that contextual factors are more identifiable and more malleable than the cliché of “culture” as a barrier to implementation might suggest. The key question is how various contextual factors impact on programme implementation and effectiveness in the different cultures of a multifaceted continent such as Europe, and how successful programmes adapt to various contexts.


Using a questionnaire survey, input was collected from people involved in the adaptation and implementation of the Strengthening Families Programme (SFP) in several European countries.


The publications and experiences of the SFP implementers and evaluators in most of the European countries where it was introduced suggest that the programme is both feasible and effective (where outcomes are available). To achieve this, however, the implementers spent a considerable amount of time and effort to prepare, pre-test and consult with their target populations in order to adjust SFP to culture and context. This paper suggests restricting the use of “culture” to a set of norms and values, and to distinguish this from “context” which describes social and political organisation. Even though both condition each other, it is helpful to address culture and context separately when adapting prevention programmes.

Research limitations/implications

Outcome data were not available for all implementations of SFP and some very recent ones in Austria, France and Italy could not be included in the questionnaire survey.

Practical implications

An examination of social capital might help implementers to anticipate resistance from the target population that seems to emanate from history, culture and context. The level of trust of others and institutions and the willingness to co-operate with them can heavily influence the readiness of drug prevention service planners, commissioners and providers, as well as the target population, to adopt interventions and other behaviours. Programmes seem to have key principles that make them effective and that should not be modified in an adaptation: a particular example is the programme protocol. Other aspects, such as wording, pictures and the content of examples used to illustrate some issues do have to be modified and are essential for an intervention to be well-accepted and understood. In some programmes, the effective principles – so-called “kernels” – are identifiable although, overall, prevention research still strives to identify them.

Social implications

Implementing complex programmes that require the cooperation of many stakeholders might increase social capital in the communities involved.


The paper examines the common belief among many European prevention professionals that programmes from abroad, particularly from North America, cannot be implemented in Europe.



The author thanks for the crucial contributions to this paper by answering the questionnaire survey to the SFP implementers in Germany: Julian Stappenbeck (, Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf; Greece: Dina Kyritsi (, 1st Department of Pediatrics, Agia Sofia Hospital for Children, Athens; Ireland: Robert O’Driscoll (, Arbour House, St. Finbarrs Hospital, Cork; Spain: Carmen Orte ( and, Universitat Illes Balears, Palma de Mallorca; The Netherlands: Martijn Bool (, MOVISIE, Knowledge centre for social development, Utrecht; Poland: Katarzyna Okulicz-Kozaryn (, Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology, Warsaw; Portugal: Catia Magalhaes (, IREFREA, Coimbra; Sweden: Eva Skärstrand (, STAD, Stockholm Centre for Psychiatric Research and Education; and UK: Debby Allen (, School of Health and Social Care, Oxford Brookes University.


Burkhart, G. (2015), "Is the Strengthening Families Programme feasible in Europe?", Journal of Children's Services, Vol. 10 No. 2, pp. 133-150.



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