UNODC Launches the Families and Schools Together (FAST) Programme in Iran
Pejman's face was lit up with joy and excitement. This was probably the first time that he was playing while his mother was fully paying attention to him, allowing him to do whatever he wanted and only praised him. This was during one of the activities of the Families and Schools Together (FAST) Programme, which encourage and empower parents to spend quality time with their children and pay the necessary attention to them.
FAST was developed in 1988 by Dr. Lynn McDonald, Professor of Social Work Research at Middlesex University in London, as an evidence-based, multi-family group prevention programme designed to build protective factors to enhance children's resilience against risk factors and empower parents to play the primary prevention role in their children's lives. The eight-week programme is offered through schools to children and the whole family to participate on a voluntary basis, and includes structured activities designed to support bonding and communication between parents and their children and foster positive parenting approaches. With mutually supportive relationships between families and school, the child is less likely to experience school failure, drug and alcohol abuse, youth delinquency, anti-social behaviour, child abuse and neglect, and mental health problems.
Research evidence supports the effectiveness of prevention programmes that involve parents/families, school, and the community. For example, a study on adolescent health entitled "Protecting Adolescents from Harm" (Resnick et al, 1997) was made with the objective of identifying risk and protective factors at the family, school, and individual levels as they relate to 4 domains of adolescent health and morbidity, among which was substance use. The study concluded that family and school contexts, as well as individual characteristics, are associated with health and risky behaviours in adolescents, and that across all domains of risk, the role of parents and family in shaping the health of children is critical. Although the physical presence of a parent at home at key times reduces risk (especially as regards substance use), of more significance for children is the parental connectedness and attention. The home environment also helps shape health outcomes. Homes where children have easy access to illicit substances contribute to increased risk of suicide, involvement in interpersonal violence, and substance use by children.
FAST is known for retention rates of 80% if a parent tries it once, with an established track record for engaging socially marginalized parents. In 2010, FAST was identified by the UNODC as one of the top 11 evidence-based family skills programmes in the world to be used in schools for promoting child well-being.
Against this background, and in the framework of its activities to support and improve drug demand reduction programmes in the country, the UNODC Office in Iran decided to include the implementation of FAST in its Country Programme. The piloting of the programme was launched on 11 January 2014 at Shaghayegh Cultural Complex, in cooperation with the Drug Control Headquarters, the Ministry of Education and the State Welfare Organization, and with the participation of 32 parents, social counselors, teachers and principals from two pre-schools. The participants were given an extensive 5-day training by the developer of the programme, Prof. McDonald, and Dr. Taghi Doostgharin, FAST trainer and Lecturer at the School of Health Sciences and Social Care/Division of Social Work at Brunel University in London. Following the training, the participants started the implementation of the programme in their respective pre-schools, which would run for 8 weeks.
In his remarks at the opening ceremony of the programme, Mr. Leik Boonwaat, Representative of the UNODC in Iran, highlighted the importance and critical role of families, schools and their surrounding communities in helping students stay drug-free and avoid aggressive and violent behaviours throughout their school days. He expressed the UNODC's hope that the implementation of FAST and similar evidence-based prevention programmes would further support and push forward the national drug prevention efforts in the country.