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Strengthening Families Program

Ages 3-17

Rating: Level 1


The Strengthening Families Program (SFP) is a parenting and family skills training program that consists of 14 consecutive weekly skill-building sessions. Parents and children work separately in training sessions and then participate together in a session practicing the skills they learned earlier. Two booster sessions are used at 6 months to 1 year after the primary course. Children’s skills training sessions concentrate on setting goals, dealing with stress and emotions, communication skills, responsible behavior, and how to deal with peer pressure. Topics in the parental section include setting rules, nurturing, monitoring compliance, and applying appropriate discipline.

SFP was developed and tested in 1983 with 6- to 12-year-old children of parents in substance abuse treatment. Since then, culturally modified versions and age-adapted versions (for 3- to 5-, 10- to 14-, and 13- to 17-year-olds) with new manuals have been evaluated and found effective for families with diverse backgrounds: African-American, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, American Indian, Australian, and Canadian.


SFP has been evaluated at least 18 times on Federal grants and at least 150 times on State grants by independent evaluators. The original National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) study involved a true pretest, posttest, and follow-up experimental design with random assignment of families to one of four experimental groups: 1) parent training only, 2) parent training plus children’s skills training, 3) the complete SFP including the family component, and 4) no treatment besides substance abuse treatment for parents. SFP was then culturally adapted and evaluated with five Center for Substance Abuse Prevention High-Risk Youth Program grants by independent evaluators using statistical control group designs that involved quasi-experimental, pretest, posttest, and 6-, 12-, 18-, and 24-month follow-ups. Recently, SFP was compared with a popular school-based aggression prevention program (I Can Problem Solve) and found highly effective (effect sizes = .45 to 1.38), employing a true experimental pretest–posttest, 12-month, and 24-month follow-up design in two Utah school districts. A NIDA four-group randomized clinical trial with about 800 primarily African-American families in the Washington, DC, area also found good results.


Research, using randomized experimental designs and pretest and posttest data collection, has found consistent positive results for diverse families, and up to 5-year follow-up measures:

  • Parent Training improves parenting skills and children’s behaviors and decreases conduct disorders.
  • Children’s Skills Training improves children’s social competencies (e.g., communication, problem solving, peer resistance, and anger control).
  • Family Skills Training improves family attachment, harmony, communication, and organization.
  • The full SFP improves more risk and protective factors predictive of later problem behaviors than other studied interventions.

Risk Factors


  • Anti-social behavior and alienation/Delinquent beliefs/General delinquency involvement/Drug dealing
  • Early onset of aggression and/or violence
  • Favorable attitudes toward drug use/Early onset of AOD use/Alcohol and/or drug use
  • Poor refusal skills


  • Family history of the problem behavior/Parent criminality
  • Family management problems/Poor parental supervision and/or monitoring
  • Parental use of physical punishment/Harsh and/or erratic discipline practices
  • Pattern of high family conflict
  • Poor family attachment/Bonding

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards
  • Perception of social support from adults and peers
  • Self-efficacy
  • Social competencies and problem-solving skills


  • Effective parenting
  • Good relationships with parents / Bonding or attachment to family
  • Having a stable family
  • High expectations
  • Opportunities for prosocial family involvement


  • SAMHSA: Model Programs
  • OJJDP/CSAP: Strengthen Families
  • NIDA: Preventing Drug Abuse


Aktan, Georgia B., Karol L. Kumpfer, and Christopher W. Turner. 1996. “Effectiveness of a Family Skills Training Program for Substance Use Prevention With Inner City African-American Families.” Substance Use and Misuse 31(2):157–75.

Fox, Danielle Polizzi, Denise C. Gottfredson, Karol L. Kumpfer, and Penny D. Beatty. 2004. “Challenges in Disseminating Model Programs: A Qualitative Analysis of the Strengthening WDC Families Project.” Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review 7(3):165–76.

Gottfredson, Denise C., Karol L. Kumpfer, Danielle Polizzi Fox, David Wilson, Veronica Puryear, Penny D. Beatty, and Myriam Vilmenay. 2005. “Strengthening Washington, DC, Families Project: A Randomized Effectiveness Trial of Family-Based Prevention.” Prevention Science 4:1007–11.

Kumpfer, Karol L. 1998. “Selective Prevention Interventions: The Strengthening Families Program.” In Rebecca S. Ashery, Elizabeth E. Robertson, and Karol L. Kumpfer (eds.). Drug Abuse Prevention Through Family Intervention. NIDA Research Monograph Series No. 177: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Pub. No. 99–4135.

Kumpfer, Karol L., and Rose Alvarado. 2003. “Family Strengthening Approaches for the Prevention of Youth Problem Behaviors.” American Psychologist 58(6/7):457–65.

Kumpfer, Karol L., Rose Alvarado, Paula Smith, and Nikki Bellamy. 2002. “Cultural Sensitivity in Universal Family-Based Prevention Interventions.” Prevention Science 3(3):241–44.

Kumpfer, Karol L., Rose Alvarado, Connie Tait, and Charles W. Turner. 2002. “Effectiveness of School-Based Family and Children’s Skills Training for Substance Abuse Prevention Among 6- to 8-Year-Old Rural Children.” Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 16(4):65–71

Kumpfer, Karol L., Rose Alvarado, Henry O. Whiteside, and Connie Tait. 2005. “The Strengthening Families Program (SFP): An Evidence-Based, Multicultural Family Skills Training Program.” In José Szapocznik, Patrick H. Tolan, and Soledad Sambrano (eds.). Preventing Substance Abuse. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Books, 3–14.


Karol Kumpfer, Ph.D.
Department of Health Promotion and Education
21901 East South Campus Drive, Room 2142
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, UT 84112
Phone: (801) 581-7718
Fax: (801) 581-5872
Web site:

Technical Assistance Provider

Henry Whiteside
5215 Pioneer Fork Road
Salt Lake City, UT 84108
Phone: (801) 583-4601
Fax: (801) 581-5872