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Program Profile: Early Risers ‘Skills for Success’ Program

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on June 13, 2011

Program Summary

This is a competency-enhancement program targeting elementary school children who are at high risk for early development of conduct problems. The program is rated Promising. Participation in the program was associated with statistically significant improvements in children’s academic competence and social skills and in adults’ parenting skills, compared with the control group at the 3-year follow up. However, there were no significant differences between groups in aggressive behavior.

This program’s rating is based on evidence that includes at least one high-quality randomized controlled trial.

Program Description

Program Goals
The Early Risers ‘Skills for Success’ Program is a comprehensive preventive intervention that targets elementary school children (ages 6 to 10) who are at high risk for early development of conduct problems (i.e., who display early aggressive, disruptive, or nonconformist behaviors). The Early Risers Program aims to prevent high-risk children’s further development of problem behaviors by improving their social and academic skills and intervening in their family environment.

A great deal of research suggests that children who are identified as exhibiting early aggressive behavior can develop later serious and chronic antisocial behavior, including serious aggression and violence (August, Realmuto, Hektner, and Bloomquist 2001). Early aggression in children can lead to a progressive stacking of disruptive behavior and failed skill acquisition, which in turn can result in significant issues with school, family, and friends—including academic failure, alienation from family members, peer rejection, and more serious conduct problems. This developmental pathway of antisocial behavior has several theoretical labels (e.g., early starter model of antisocial behavior, life-course persistent antisocial behavior, the aggressive–versatile pathway). The goal of Early Risers is to alter the developmental trajectory of early aggressive, high-risk children onto a more adaptive developmental pathway.

Target Population
The program targets elementary school children (ages 6 to 10) who are at high risk for early development of conduct problems, including substance use (i.e., who display early aggressive, disruptive, or nonconformist behaviors).

Program Theory
Intervention components of Early Risers integrate social learning, social development, and cognitive–behavioral models. The program also draws on developmental theory and comprehensive parenting interventions to preempt problem and delinquent behavior in young children exhibiting early aggression, which can progress into more serious conduct problems.

The program targets four salient competence domains related to an adaptive developmental pathway: 1) academic competence; 2) behavioral self-regulation; 3) social competence; and 4) parent investment in his/her child. Deficits in these domains can increase a child’s risk for future antisocial behaviors. Enhancing these domains can serve as a protection against future risk.

The enhanced competence gained through the program leads to the development of positive self-image, independent decision-making, healthy problem-solving, assertive communication, and constructive coping. Once acquired, these attributes and skills collectively enable youths to resist personal and social forces that encourage early substance use and potential abuse and dependency.

Program Components
Early Risers is a multicomponent, high-intensity, competency-enhancement program based on the premise that early, comprehensive, and sustained intervention is necessary to target multiple risk and protective factors. Early Risers uses a full-strength intervention model with two complementary components, CORE and FLEX. The interventions are:
  • Parent education and skills training
  • Proactive parent–school consultation
  • Child social skills training and strategic peer involvement
  • Reading/educational enrichment activities
  • Family support, consultation, and brief interventions to cope with stress
  • Contingency management of aggressive, disruptive, and noncompliant behavior
The CORE component is delivered during 6 weeks of summer school sessions and includes ongoing teacher consultation and student mentoring during the school day as well as a biweekly family program that consists of parent education, skills training, and child social skills training groups. The FLEX component is delivered at the same time but functions as a prevention case management tool to handle unique family issues that the CORE curriculum may not be able to adequately address. FLEX uses family strengths as levers for change and adapts services to the individual needs of children, parents, and families.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Academic Competence
August and colleagues (2000) found that children in the Early Risers intervention group showed statistically significant improvements in academic competence, compared with children in the control group at the 3-year follow up.

Aggressive Behavior
There were no significant differences between groups on measures of aggressive behavior at the 3-year follow up.

Social Skills
Children in the intervention group showed statistically significant improvements in social skills, compared with children in the control group at the 3-year follow up.

Parenting Skills
Parents of children in the intervention group showed statistically significant improvements in parenting skills, compared with parents of children in the control group at the 3-year follow up.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
August and colleagues (2002) examined the effects of the Early Risers ‘Skills for Success’ Program over a 3-year intervention trial in two semirural, Midwestern geographical sites consisting of white families of low to low–middle socioeconomic status. Within each site, 10 demographically comparable schools agreed to participate in the screening of kindergarten children for aggressive/disruptive behavior. After students were screened at each site, 5 schools were randomly assigned to the program group and 5 schools were randomly assigned to the control group, for a total of 10 program schools and 10 control schools. A total of 1,840 kindergarten children were screened for early-onset aggressive behavior, and 18.5 percent (341 students) met the high-risk criteria.

Parental consent was received for 124 children from program schools and 121 children from comparison schools, to form the original sample of 245 students. At the 3-year follow-up, there were 100 students in the intervention group and 99 students in the control group. The intervention group was mostly white (84.7 percent) and male (63.7 percent), with an average age of 6.6 years. The control group was also mostly white (93.4 percent) and male (73.6 percent), with an average age of 6.7 years. There were no significant differences between the students who were retained and those who dropped out of the study, except that retained students tended to be slightly older and were more likely to be white.

Outcome variables were four global competence domains: academic competence, behavior self-regulation problems, social competence, and parent investment. Data on academic competence, behavioral self-regulation, and social competence was measured through several scales. The Woodcock–Johnson Test of Achievement—Revised measured students’ basic reading and arithmetic skills. Teachers also completed the following:
  • The Behavioral Assessment System for Children–Teacher Rating Scale, which rates dimensions of externalizing, internalizing, and adaptive behavior
  • The Teacher’s Scale of Child’s Actual Competence and Social Acceptance, which rates cognitive competence
  • The Teacher Observation of Classroom Adaptation—Revised, which provides additional information about classroom behavior
Parents completed the Parent Observation of Classroom Adaptation, which assessed child behavior in the home. Finally, parent investment in the child was measured through the Alabama Parenting Questionnaire, which assessed parenting practices. The data was collected from students, teachers, and parents during May and June in each of 3 subsequent years. This study examined the results at the end of the second year of the intervention.

Children in the intervention and control groups were categorized into three groups on the basis of their level of severity of aggression relative to the normative sample across all 3 time periods examined in the study. Children were categorized as either mildly, moderately, or severely aggressive based on their scales on the Aggression Scale of the Child Behavior Checklist–Teacher Reporting Forms. Approximately one third of the intervention and control groups fell into each of these categories.

In addition, a sample of kindergarten children was drawn from the same schools used to select program and control group participants, but the sample served as normative participants. The children were selected from the following year’s kindergarten class and did not receive intervention activities. The sample was drawn to be proportionally equivalent to the general population of kindergarten students in terms of gender and aggressive behavior. The resulting sample (n=92) included 45 percent boys, and only 19 percent were in the at-risk range for aggressive behavior.

The outcomes were measured with composite variables computed as a mean of at least two scales. Assignment to group was randomized by school rather than by individual; thus, data was analyzed using a three-level mixed random regression model procedure, with time points nested within individual participants nested within schools. An intent-to-treat strategy was used in the analyses, meaning all available data was included, even data from missing participants. A subgroup analysis was conducted on dosage (which included both the level of intervention received and how many lessons parents attended), gender, and the child’s level of aggression.
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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Other Information (Including Subgroup Findings)

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August and colleagues (2000) conducted subgroup analyses on dosage (which included both the level of intervention received and how many lessons parents attended), gender, and the child’s level of aggression. They found no significant effects for gender. For self-regulation, they found that the rate of improvement among mildly and moderately aggressive children did not differ significantly between program and control groups. In contrast, among severely aggressive children, only those who participated in the program showed statistically significant improvements in ability to self-regulate behavior. The study authors also found a relationship between intervention dosage and level of child aggression. For moderately aggressive children, there were no differences in parent distress levels between those receiving high or low dosage; however, among severely aggressive children, those receiving the higher dosage had significantly lower distress levels at the follow up. Among parents of the mildly aggressive children, those receiving low dosage had a final distress level below that of the high-dose group; however, this difference was not statistically significant. Further effects were found specifically for dosage in terms of attendance. For example, statistically significant improvements in reported use of discipline practices were only found for parents who completed at least half of the family skills-training sessions. Control and program parents who attended fewer than half of the sessions did not report significant changes in their discipline practices. There were no significant differences in parent investment, distress, or nurturance for parents with low- or high-attendance levels.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
August, Gerald J., Joel M. Hektner, Elizabeth A. Egan, George M. Realmuto, and Michael L. Bloomquist. 2002. “The Early Risers Longitudinal Prevention Trial: Examination of 3-Year Outcomes in Aggressive Children With Intent-to-Treat and As-Intended Analyses.” Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 16:27–39.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

August, Gerald J., Elizabeth A. Egan, George M. Realmuto, and Joel M. Hektner. 2003. “Parceling Component Effects of a Multifaceted Prevention Program for Disruptive Elementary School Children.” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 31:515–27.

August, Gerald J., George M. Realmuto, Joel M. Hektner, and Michael L. Bloomquist. 2001. “An Integrated Components Preventive Intervention for Aggressive Elementary School Children: The Early Risers Program.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 69:614–26.

August, Gerald J., George M. Realmuto, Ken C. Winters, and Joel M. Hektner. 2001. “Prevention of Adolescent Drug Abuse: Targeting High-Risk Children With a Multifaceted Intervention Model—The Early Risers ‘Skills for Success’ Program.” Applied and Preventive Psychology 10:135–54.

August, Gerald J., Susanne S. Lee, Michael L. Bloomquist, George M. Realmuto, and Joel M. Hektner. 2007. “Dissemination of an Evidence-Based Prevention Innovation for Aggressive Children Living in Culturally Diverse, Urban Neighborhoods: The Early Risers Effectiveness Study.” Prevention Science 4(4):271–86. (This study was reviewed but did not meet criteria for inclusion in the overall program rating.)

Bloomquist, Michael L., Jason L. Horowitz, Gerald J. August, Chih-Yuan S. Lee, George M. Realmuto, and Bonnie Klimes-Dougan. 2009. “Understanding Parent Participation in a Going-to-Scale Implementation Trial of the Early Risers Conduct Problems Prevention Program.” Journal of Child and Family Studies 18:710–18.

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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

This practice provides at-risk youth with positive and consistent adult or older peer contact to promote healthy development and functioning by reducing risk factors. The practice is rated Effective in reducing delinquency outcomes; and Promising in reducing the use of alcohol and drugs; improving school attendance, grades, academic achievement test scores, social skills and peer relationships.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Drugs & Substance Abuse - Multiple substances
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Education - Multiple education outcomes
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Mental Health & Behavioral Health - Psychological functioning
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Program Snapshot

Age: 6 - 10

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: White

Geography: Rural

Setting (Delivery): School

Program Type: Academic Skills Enhancement, Classroom Curricula, Conflict Resolution/Interpersonal Skills, Leadership and Youth Development, Mentoring, Parent Training, School/Classroom Environment, Children Exposed to Violence

Targeted Population: Children Exposed to Violence

Current Program Status: Active

Listed by Other Directories: Child Exposure to Violence Evidence Based Guide, Model Programs Guide, National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices

Program Developer:
Gerald J. August
Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
2450 Riverside Avenue, F256/2B West
Minneapolis MN 55454-1495
Phone: 612.273.9711
Fax: 612.273.9779