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Linking the Interests of Families and Teachers (LIFT), a prevention program designed for delivery to children and parents within the elementary school setting, is described. The LIFT targets for change those child and parent behaviors thought to be most relevant to the development of adolescent delinquent and violent behaviors, namely child oppositional, defiant, and socially inept behavior and parent discipline and monitoring. The three major components of the LIFT are (a) classroom-based child social and problem skills training, (b) playground-based behavior modification, and (c) group-delivered parent training. The results of a randomized controlled evaluation of the LIFT are reviewed. To date, the program has positively impacted the targeted antecedents. Most importantly, during the 3 years following the program, the LIFT delayed the time that participants first became involved with antisocial peers during middle school, as well as the time to first patterned alcohol use, to first marijuana use, and to first police arrest.
DELINQUENCY HAS BEEN A SERIOUS problem in the major cities of the eastern United States since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (Eddy & Swanson Gribskov, 1997). In these locales, policymakers and lay-people in each successive generation have spoken out against the increasing dangerousness of youth and the pressing need for solutions. Despite the plethora of "preventive" measures that have followed, delinquency has persisted and spread and is now a topic of debate not only in cities and towns throughout the United States but in many rural areas as well. Even criminal gang activity, which was once the sole province of the most densely populated cities, was a phenomenon reported by police departments in over 750 locales in 1992 (Klein, 1995).
Through most of the history of the United States, prevention meant incarceration as early as possible in the life of a child perceived to be "delinquent." The actual commission of a delinquent act was not a requirement for delinquency classification. Thus, during the nineteenth century, many incarcerated children were from impoverished, immigrant families who were considered "unfit" to properly raise a child. After the creation of the juvenile court at the turn of the twentieth century, psychological techniques began to be used to assess youth brought before the court. These techniques, as well as various forms of psychological intervention, were disseminated throughout the country via a burgeoning network of child guidance clinics. Not until the 1930s did preventive attempts begin to incorporate some of the techniques that are popular today. For example, the use of community boards in the development of interventions was pioneered in Chicago neighborhoods (Sechrest, 1970) and a multimodal preventive intervention program began to be employed in "high risk" neighborhoods in Boston (McCord, 1992).
Early studies of the effectiveness of these interventions suggested that they were less than promising. For example, youth who received services in child guidance clinics appeared to be unaffected in terms of their delinquent behavior (Glueck & Glueck, 1934). A large-scale randomized controlled study of Boston-area prevention efforts (i.e., a casework mentoring program) found that the program not only failed to have an impact (Powers & Witmer, 1951), but may have increased the likelihood that participants displayed problem behaviors (McCord, 1981).
Although concerns about delinquency were eclipsed during World War II, in the years following the war, police arrests of youth due to their antisocial behavior rose at an astounding rate. By the end of the 1950s, public concern was so intense that the federal government and several private foundations began to finance a new generation of delinquency prevention efforts. Unfortunately, the impact of most of these programs was as unclear as that of those that preceded them. Most simply failed to make a difference (Berleman & Steinburn, 1969).
During this same period of time, psychological researchers throughout the country began to use and study the effect of a new set of intervention techniques based on behavioral principles. These researchers moved away from the individual and clinic-based treatments that were popular at the time and instead intervened directly in the classroom, in the home, or both (e.g., Hops & Walker, 1988; Meichenbaum & Goodman, 1971; Patterson, 1974; Schweinhart & Weikart, 1988; Shure, Spivack, & Jaeger, 1971; Walker, Hops, & Greenwood, 1993). The promise of these new intervention strategies helped inaugurate a new wave of preventive efforts. By the late 1970s, researchers such as Hawkins and colleagues (Hawkins, Von Cleve, & Catalano, 1991) were implementing elementary school--based preventive programs that targeted child aggression and antisocial behavior through the use of a variety of techniques in multiple settings. A plethora of studies on the effectiveness of similar multimodal prevention programs have followed (e.g., Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group, 1992; Kellam et al., 1991; Tremblay, Pagani-Kurtz, Masse, Vitaro, & Pihl, 1995). At a minimum, most of these new programs combined parent training and child social skills training.
One of the programs developed during this most recent round of preventive activity was the Linking the Interests of Families and Teachers (LIFT), a multimodal prevention program targeting the antecedents of youth delinquency and violence and designed for use in elementary school settings. The LIFT comprised three components: (a) a classroom-based child social and problem skills training component, (b) a playground-based behavior modification component, and (c) a group-delivered parent training component. In this article, we describe the LIFT in detail, overview our findings on the efficacy of the program, and conclude with a set of recommendations for practice.
The major difference between recent and earlier preventive efforts is the degree to which the new programs have been informed by basic scientific research on the development of delinquency. During the past several decades, a variety of parent and child behaviors during early and middle childhood have been consistently linked to delinquent behaviors during adolescence (see Stoff, Breiling, & Maser, 1997). One of the most promising theories based on this research, and the theory upon which the LIFT is based, is coercion theory (Patterson, 1982; Patterson, Reid, & Dishion, 1992).
In coercion theory, the key mechanism hypothesized to drive the development of child problem behaviors is negative reinforcement. "Negative reinforcement" is the association of certain behaviors with the termination or delay of aversive situations, such as a person hitting the "snooze" button when his or her alarm rings in the morning. In contrast, the more familiar "positive reinforcement" or reward paradigm is the association of certain behaviors with a preferred occurrence or situation, such as a child receiving a piece of candy with lunch because he did not fight with his sister in the car on the way to school. In either reinforcement situation, over time, the behaviors that are most effective at leading to the desired outcome in a given situation become the most likely to occur when that situation occurs (e.g., alarm rings [right arrow] button pressed [right arrow] alarm off).
Negative reinforcement is a particularly common learning paradigm in family interaction. For example, a father asks his son to clean up his room immediately because company is coming over for dinner. The child complains and dawdles, and the parent feels frustrated. The parent then asks again, and the child continues to delay. The parent now feels angry and yells at the child to "get moving." The child yells back and says, "Leave me alone" and runs outside to play with his friends. The parent, now distraught and exhausted, quickly picks up his son's room and then begins to cook dinner.
The final outcome of a scenario such as this is that child refusal to cooperate is inadvertently reinforced by parent acceptance of the refusal. In effect, the child's refusal is rewarded. If repeated again and again, this type of seemingly innocuous social interaction is hypothesized to serve a major role in the genesis and maintenance of child behavior problems. If aversive behavior effectively ends undesirable situations with parents, children are likely to display the same type of behavior when they encounter undesirable circumstances in other relationships (i.e., child--peer, child--teacher). Insidiously, most instances of such negative behavior are probably not the result of a conscious act by the child, but rather are the display of an acquired relationship skill. The more frequently these interactions end in the reinforcement of child misbehavior, the more likely the child will continue to behave in similar ways in the future.
The consequences of this pattern of child behavior are severe. Children who display frequent defiance and opposition to those around them are likely to be disliked and shunned. As adults and peers alike withdraw from contact with a child, he or she is less likely to receive reinforcement for the positive behaviors that are displayed. A lack of adult engagement places a child at risk for exposure to other rejected peers who are willing to engage the child. It is often through relationships with these "deviant peers" that a youth with a history of troubled relationships begins to commit criminal behaviors. Youth who commit many delinquent behaviors are likely to commit a variety of different kinds of offenses, including violent acts. Notably, the best predictor of violence during adolescence is prior frequent antisocial behavior (Capaldi & Patterson, 1996).
The LIFT targets for change those child and parent behaviors thought to be the most relevant to the development of adolescent delinquent and violent behaviors, namely opposition, defiance, and social ineptitude on …