Guest editorial

Carmen Orte (Chair Professor, Department of Education and Didactics, University of the Balearic Islands, Palma, Spain)
Joan Amer (Lecturer, Department of Education and Didactics, University of the Balearic Islands, Palma, Spain)

Journal of Children's Services

ISSN: 1746-6660

Article publication date: 15 June 2015



Orte, C. and Amer, J. (2015), "Guest editorial", Journal of Children's Services, Vol. 10 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Guest editorial

Article Type: Guest editorial From: Journal of Children's Services, Volume 10, Issue 2.

Carmen Orte and Joan Amer

Strengthening families: changes and developments


The germ of this Special Issue was the Strengthening Family Strategy Online Conference, held in December 2013. This Conference was organised by the Grupo de Investigación y Formación Educativa y Social (GIFES; Social and Educational Training and Research Group, at the University of the Balearic Islands, with funding from the Spanish Government Research Plan (Projects EDU2010-20336 and EDU2013-42412-R). The main objective of the conference was to share knowledge about the best practices strategies of the strengthening families approach. The main topics were: cultural sensitivity and the adaptation of family-based prevention interventions; the implementation of strategies in schools, social care and health services; the efficacy and effectiveness of evidence-based programmes; and the importance of longitudinal studies.

The main debate focused on the importance of using evidence-based programmes and the shortage of longitudinal studies. Regarding the first of these, it was advised that the little amount of money available be invested in validated programmes, since their effectiveness has been proven and it is also a way to use communal money. As far as the second issue is concerned, the lack of studies in which the impact of long-term changes is measured was emphasised. These studies must give credit to the changes in terms of significance and also in relation with the scope of the change, as well as how to maintain these changes throughout time.

The approach taken in this Special Issue is focused largely, though not exclusively, on the Strengthening Families Programme (SFP). This programme is considered a model of the family prevention programme in the classification made by the North American public agency Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) ( This agency's quality criteria include the fidelity of implementation, process evaluation, the measurement of the results of behavioural changes and the validity of measurement procedures.

The SFP (Kumpfer and DeMarsh, 1985; Kumpfer et al., 1989) is a selective or universal multicomponent risk factor prevention programme (Iowa version SFP 10-14, Molgaard et al., 1994). It was developed in order to reduce the influence of family risk factors in drug addicts' sons and daughters and, at the same time, strengthen protective factors in order to improve young people's resilience towards consumption and other behavioural and/or mental health issues. According to Kumpfer and DeMarsh (1985), the specific objectives of the programme are to improve family communication, parent-child relationships, family organisation and cohesion and the practice of parental supervision. In relation to children, the focus is on positive changes in their social and adaptive skills, communication and relationship skills and concentration skills.

The SFP comprises a structured and family centred curriculum that spans 14 weeks (seven in the Iowa version), carried out in a two- to three-hour weekly sessions that includes three elements, the first two of which are implemented in parallel: a training programme for both fathers and mothers' skills; a training programme for both sons and daughters' skills; and a family training joint programme. The programme is applied to groups of between four and 14 families. Regarding children's ages, the SFP has three different versions: SFP 3-5, SFP 6-11 and SFP 12-16. Regarding Iowa SFP10-14, the main differences in format in comparison with the original SFP format concern the programme duration (seven weeks instead of 14), the mainly school context where these implementations take place, and the programme target age (10-14 years). It is also worth noting that the original programme targets families in high social risk or substance consumption situations (selective programme), whereas SFP-IOWA is targeted at all types of families (universal programme).

According to UNODC (2009), prevention programmes within the family are among the most effective, since they have been proven to be effective in substance abuse and other risk behaviour prevention. UNODC (2009) points out that family behaviour influences the healthy development of children and adolescents. Positive parent-child relationships, effective discipline and supervision and positive parenting practices are linked to lower problematic and/or risky behaviours among adolescents. Furthermore, according to UNODC (2009), programmes that focus on the family as a whole are more effective than those involving parents only (parent education programmes) or children only (social skills programmes for children and adolescents). Specifically, and in relation with the prevention of alcohol consumption, universal family prevention programmes prevent alcohol consumption in young teenagers, with persistent medium and long-term effects (12 months or more), and they are cited as the best preventive options in the case of vulnerable teenagers with multiple risk factors (UNODC, 2013).

The advantage of adopting established programmes, such as North American programmes mainly, is that they have been evaluated and have manuals, protocols, videos, resources and methods (EMCDDA, 2013), in contrast to designing a programme from scratch (Centre for Substance Abuse Treatment, 2007). Across Europe, we find many different experiences on the SFP adaptation, both in its original version (Kumpfer et al., 1989; and in its subsequent SFP-IOWA version ( There are European SFP adaptations in the UK, Ireland, Poland, Italy, Sweden, Germany, Greece, Holland and Spain (

Contents of the Special Issue

This Special Issue includes papers about longitudinal studies, cultural adaptation, the changes in prosocial skills driven by a family prevention programme and a new family programme design.

Regarding longitudinal studies, the issue includes a long-term assessment of the Spanish adaptation of SFP (Orte, et al.). The goal of this paper is to measure family competence change over time and different outputs related to different family situations and typologies. Also on the subject of longitudinal studies, Özdemir's paper highlights that such studies allow the measurement of family prevention programmes' long-term effects and identifies the lack of such analyses. Özdemir emphasises that future investigations should prioritise long-term data collection. He adds that one of the major objectives in evaluation is to establish causal links between involvement in prevention programmes and changes in specified objectives. Causal inference in longitudinal studies requires rigorous methodological designs, eliminating alternative explanations for the changes achieved.

Regarding cultural adaptation, there is a debate about the suitability of North American programmes in a European context and the specific characteristics that these cultural adaptations of programmes should have (as one may see in the papers by Burkhart's and Magalhaes and Kumpfer, respectively). There is a lack of awareness in Europe of evidence-based programmes and a European scepticism regarding American programmes because of the economic and human resources that their implementation requires (Little, 2010; Ortega et al., 2012; EMCDDA, 2013). Others argue that programme translation and contextualisation to different European contexts can be carried out without losing any efficacy or fidelity as regards the content and objectives of the original programme (Kumpfer et al., 2012).

On this subject, a greater effort is being put into developing databases of evidence-based programmes with a view to the potential implementation of such programmes in European children's services (Axford et al., 2012a). In comparison with programmes of a different sort, such as school or community programmes, (EMCDDA, 2013) and Burkhart's paper in this issue explain that North American family programmes seem relatively easy to adapt in Europe, since the values and meanings of the word "family" are partially shared. Culturally adapted versions of SFP have been implemented in different European countries. For example, Magalhaes and Kumpfer's paper examines the culturally adapted version for Portuguese families.

The Special Issue also deals with the improvement of prosocial behaviour in children after their participation in an evidence-based family prevention programme (Orte, March et al.). In order to know what factors promote prosocial behaviour, it helps to understand which educational resources should be used to enhance this behaviour, and it helps to improve the design of family prevention programmes.

Last, regarding the design of a new programme, this Special Issue includes the example of developing "Building Everyday Life", a programme that aims to improve parenting outcomes through better sharing of family responsibilities (Torío et al.). The programme is inspired by three principles: working towards a democratic model of upbringing and family life; equality, avoiding gender stereotypes in the family and rearing practices; and family co-responsibility and shared parenting. It includes evaluation instruments to measure changes, with the study showing that positive results were obtained.

Future directions

One of the central issues about evidence-based programmes relates to dissemination and new implementation formats. Prevention programme dissemination is related to the quality of the materials or the programme curricula as well as to other support resources, evaluation protocols and orientations. With the dual objective of making the programmes accessible to families and achieving further efficiency, interactive technologies and advanced networks are being used in evidence-based programmes, as is the development of different preventive "menus" according to the families' needs. Another future direction is to consider in-depth biological and behavioural measurements such as the epigenetics' perspective in these programmes (Brody, 2014).

One aspect that limits the dissemination of these programs is funding. The benefit-cost ratio of evidence-based programmes is often very positive since, among other benefits, they prevent substance abuse (reducing substance use ratios and delaying the age at which substances are taken for the first time) and thereby contribute to the social cost savings of drug abuse (Miller and Hendrie, 2008). Nevertheless, the implementation and evaluation of programmes is not always present on the policy agenda of governments. This is why a cutting-edge debate in the field is the economic cost-benefit analysis of these programmes.

Other important aspects that condition the dissemination and maintenance of programmes include professionals' specific training in the programme contents, the access of families and their motivation to continue being involved in prevention programmes, and economic resources for the long-term analysis of prevention programmes. Even though these aspects require different treatment and research, they are all related to the dissemination, generalisation and maintenance of evidence-based prevention programmes, either in their original versions or versions adapted to a different language and culture.

New family cohabitation models should also be taken into consideration, since they represent new challenges for programme adaptation and implementation. They include both new families (i.e. homosexual and foster families) and the growth of family types such as single-mother families and families with adopted children. Furthermore, family instability and the growing frequency of family breakups usually lead to changes in parental models, especially male parental models.

From an evaluation perspective, it could be useful to take into consideration, first, group analyses, such as cluster analysis, and, second, the added value perspective. Cluster analyses allow the measurement of different responses and programme applications depending on the different types of family. The added value perspective emphasises the fact that the starting point is not the same one for every family. Therefore, different progressions and applications should be taken into consideration, depending on these different starting points.

Overall, the development of family evidence-based programmes should take into account issues such as: the connection between the theory, the aetiology of the problems in question and the contents of the intervention; the impact of the messages and the preventive contents on the target population; the development of new recruiting systems; the motivation and maintenance of the families; taking questions on group dynamics into consideration for the better performance of the sessions; fostering social links; offering an answer to families' worries, interests, needs and expectations; and eliminating any participation barriers. In short, there is a need to pay special attention to the different aspects that foster family recruitment and retention in prevention programs (Axford et al., 2012b).


The translation and proofreading of this text has been funded by the Spanish Government Research Project EDU2013-42412-R.


Axford, N., Elliott, D.S. and Little, M. (2012a), "Blueprints for Europe: promoting evidence-based programmes in children's services", Psychosocial Intervention, Vol. 21 No. 2, pp. 205-14

Axford, N., Lehtonen, M., Kaoukji, D., Tobin, K. and Berry, V. (2012b), "Engaging parents in parenting programs: lessons from research and practice", Children and Jouth Services Review, Vol. 34 No. 10, pp. 2061-71

Brody, G.H. (2014), "Examining protective-stabilizing effects of family centered prevention on biological indicators of stress", Society for Prevention Research, 22nd Annual Meeting, Washington, DC

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (2007), "Understanding evidence-based practices for co-occurring disorders", COCE Overview Paper No. 5, DHHS Publication No. (SMA) 07-4278, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and Center for Mental Health Services, Rockville, MD, available at: accessed 19 July 2014

EMCDDA, European Monitoring Centre on Drug Dependence and Addiction (2013), North American Drug Prevention Programmes: Are They Feasible in European Cultures And Contexts?, EMCDDA, Lisbon

Kumpfer, K.L. and DeMarsh, J. (1985), "Genetic and family environmental influences on children of drug abusers", Journal of Children in Contemporary Society, Vols 3-4, pp. 49-91

Kumpfer, K.L., DeMarsh, J.P. and Child, W. (1989), Strengthening Families Program: Children's Skills Training Curriculum Manual, Parent Training Manual, Children's Skill Training Manual, and Family Skills Training Manual, University of Utah, Salt Lake City

Kumpfer, K.L., Xie, J. and O'Driscoll, R. (2012), "Effectiveness of a culturally adapted strengthening families program 12-16 years for high-risk irish families", Child Youth Care Forum, Vol. 41 No. 2, pp. 173-95

Little, M. (2010), Proof Positive, Demos, London

Miller, T. and Hendrie, D. (2008), "Substance abuse prevention dollar and cents: a cost benefit analysis", DHHS Pub No. (SMA) 074298, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Rockville, MD

Molgaard, V., Kumpfer, K.L. and Spoth, R. (1994), The Iowa Strengthening Families Program for Pre and Early Teens, Iowa State University, Ames, IA

Ortega, E., Giannotta, F., Latina, D. and Ciairano, S. (2012), "Cultural adaptation of the strengthening families program 10-14 to italian families", Child Youth Care Forum, Vol. 41 No. 2, pp. 197-212

UNODC (2009), Guide to Implementing Family Skills Training Programmes For Drug Abuse Prevention, United Nations Oficce on Drugs and Crime, Vienna

UNODC (2013), International Standards on Drug Use Prevention, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Vienna

Related articles