• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Monday 03rd August, 2009

Chicago booster makes children safer

Researchers from the Institute of Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois have discovered that children taking part in an intervention aimed to improve academic performance and decrease antisocial behavior, were more likely to benefit if they attended “booster” sessions three years later.Of more than 200 children from seven deprived Chicago neighborhoods who received the intervention as five and six-year-olds, half were randomly assigned to receive a booster component three years later, as they were about to move on to their next stage of schooling.Children participating in the SAFEChildren program all showed improvements in academic performance and parental school involvement. However, as the study published in the journal Prevention Science shows, when tested again as ten-year-olds, the half of the children who received the booster were better behaved. They were less aggressive, less impulsive and had better concentration. Original evaluation of SAFEChildren - without the booster - showed that the program was more effective and improved a broader spectrum of child outcomes for children who were identified as “high risk” for academic under-achievement and antisocial behavior. The pattern was repeated with children who received the booster sessions. Those identified as already showing behavioral problems, or who came from potentially damaging family environments, showed additional improvements over and above other children, and in more areas of their lives. In order to collect information about the children and their families, the research team recruited interviewers from within the communities to administer short interviews collected in English or Spanish. The research team led by Patrick Tolan speculate that the booster did more than simply reinforce the original effects of SAFEChildren, by spreading the benefit more widely to more children. More thought should be given to considering the link between the impact of interventions on the general school population, and those at high risk, they say. Too often they are regarded as separate entities, but children share classrooms, attend the same schools and receive such programs regardless of whether they are high or low risk.Reductions in general levels of aggression and bad behavior in a classroom may mean that high risk children do not develop problems. Equally, it may be that the reduction in disruptive behavior among high-risk children reduces the exposure of others to aggression and negative role models. Understanding such connections should make it possible to design more effective programs.Ensuring that prevention and early intervention initiatives have lasting impact continues to be a preoccupation of program developers and policy makers. The current picture is mixed: the benefits of some endure; in other cases they fade – or emerge much later in life. The Chicago study adds to a small body of research, generally using less robust, quasi-experimental methods, that indicates the value of booster components. Tolan’s is among the first to test the idea in a randomized controlled trial. Although the study confirms that boosters may have a key role to play in enhancing the longevity of prevention programs, the authors point out that little is known about how they function. They may work by consolidating the principles of the initial intervention or by strengthening key skills at an appropriate time in a child’s development. Or experience of the first part of the intervention may create the conditions that ensure the booster has an effect. See: Tolan P H, Gorman Smith D, Henry D and Shoeny M (2009), “The Benefits of Booster Interventions: Evidence from a Family-Focused Prevention Program,” Prevention Science, online content

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