CPRE - Consortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Wisconsin Madison

FAST Program Description

Families and Schools Together

Families and Schools Together, Inc. (FAST) is a multifamily group intervention designed to build protective factors for children (4 to 12 years old) and empower parents to be the primary prevention agents for their own children.  Lynn McDonald initiated a school and community program in 1988 called Families and Schools Together (FAST). McDonald developed the FAST program to enhance children’s academic and social performance. FAST programs build relationships among parents, schools, and the community. Multiple families gather once a week for 8 weeks to share a meal and participate in a variety of structured social activities, including music, drawing, family games, children’s sports, and opportunities for parents to interact in activities that apply theory and research. Students who have participated in the FAST program experience fewer behavioral problems and show improved academic performance.

A collaborative team of parents, trained professionals and school personnel recruit then deliver FAST program components to 5 to 25 families at a time. Team members do not lecture at FAST, but facilitate highly participatory, research-based activities with turn taking, experiential learning, and parent support.Since its beginnings in Madison, Wisconsin, the FAST program is now implemented regularly nationally in 48 U.S. states and internationally in seven countries (Canada, Germany, Australia, Austria, Russia, England, and the Netherlands).

If a family attends one FAST meeting, there is an 80% chance the family will graduate from the full 8-week program. The high retention rate is unusual, especially for stressed, low-income families. Two years after graduating, 86% of parent participants report that they are still seeing friends they made through FAST. Parents become friends and support one another over time. Some become community leaders. Using schools as community-based structures helps create outreach to families and becomes a viable approach for national replication.

Research-Based Program Components

Each FAST activity is based on proven research theory justifying why and how to implement the activity to maximize its impact on the relationship building process.

FAST systematically applies research on family stress theory, family systems theory, social ecological theory, and community development strategies to achieve its four goals—

FAST Program components include—

1) Outreach to recruit whole families to attend 8 weekly multifamily support groups and monthly multifamily meetings.  These face-to-face visits by team members conducted at times and places convenient for the parent are vital. 

2) Weekly Multifamily Support groups (made up of 5-25 families) are held for 8-12 weeks.  Weekly meeting activities are sequential and each session includes:

  • A family meal and family communication games.
  • A self-help parent support group occurring while children engage in supervised play and organized activities.
  • One-to-one parent-mediated play therapy.
  • A “fixed” family lottery (every family wins once).
  • Opening and closing routines, which model the effectiveness of family rituals for children.

3)  FASTWORKS is the on-going multifamily meetings which are held monthly after families “graduate” from the 8-week FASTprogram. With team support, parents design the agenda to maintain FAST family networks that were developed and identify/develop community development goals. 

Proven Results

Over the last 12 years, research and development on the FAST program has been sponsored by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and the Department of Justice. The FAST evaluation strategy is twofold.  The first component is to determine program effectiveness, which is accomplished through the completion of large, multi-site, independent studies that employed rigorous experimental designs.  The second component of the FAST evaluation strategy is to ensure program fidelity by requiring pre-post outcome evaluations of every new site in order to be certified.   The FAST experimental studies across populations and sites show statistically significant results in the following areas:

For more information on completed FAST projects please visit:

Families and Schools Together (FAST) Project: Building Relationships and
Families and Schools Together (FAST) and Parents as Teachers (PAT)