Researchers Examining Family-Strengthening Intervention

December 16, 2009

Penn State researchers are modifying and evaluating an existing family-strengthening intervention to broaden its effectiveness. The study is funded by a $3.3-million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Researchers led by Dr. Douglas Coatsworth, associate professor of human development and family studies (HDFS), are adapting the Strengthening Families Program: For Parents and Youth 10-14 (SFP 10-14), which educates parents and youth on ways to enhance their relationships. Although SFP 10-14 was originally established to prevent the onset of drug use in teens and has demonstrated good outcomes, Coatsworth believes that the program can be adapted to strengthen the effects and to prevent other poor outcomes in teens, such as risky sexual behavior.

“The Strengthening Families Program is one of the most promising universal family-based preventive interventions. Research shows that it delays the onset of substance use, improves parenting practices, increases youths’ resistance to peer pressure, and reduces aggressive or destructive behavior,” says Coatsworth. “However, most of those studies have been done by the same research group and independent replication will strengthen the evidence for the program’s efficacy.”

The study is not only an attempt to evaluate SFP 10-14, but it is charting new territories in prevention science. The adapted intervention, says Coatsworth, is targeting parents with a set of skills that have not been tested in any family-based prevention programs to date. It was created by a team of researchers and clinicians including Coatsworth; Dr. Mark Greenberg, director of the Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development and Edna P. Bennett Chair in Prevention Research in Human Development and Family Studies; Dr. Larissa Duncan, assistant professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine and the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and former Penn State graduate student in HDFS; Dr. Robert Nix, research associate in Penn State’s Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development; Christa Turksma, prevention consultant; and Elaine Berrena, senior project associate in the College of Health and Human Development.

This team worked closely with Dr. Virginia Molgaard, associate professor emerita at Iowa State University and author of the original SFP-10-14 program, to modify some of the program activities.

“We think that the new activities will help parents see their youths behavior and their parenting from a new, more positive perspective and is likely to enhance the parent-youth relationships more than earlier tests of this intervention,” says Coatsworth.

A pilot study of the program showed that parents improved their ability to control anger, exhibited less negativity, and acted more positively toward children.

The researchers will be testing the intervention with 600 families of sixth- and seventh-grade children in five Pennsylvania school districts. The study will be conducted through Penn State’s Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development.


Editors: Doug Coatsworth can be contacted at or 814-865-5259. For additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at 814-865-3831 or