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Cuyahoga County finds innovative ways to keep school-based program after budget cuts
Photo: A child from a Cuyahoga County FAST program.
When federal budget cuts threatened to eliminate a nationally proven, evidence-based prevention program for children and parents, Cuyahoga County entities collaborated to keep the program running. Their innovative approach is now being shared with other sites around the country as a model of how to make effective mid-course corrections in a changing fiscal environment.
The program, Families and Schools Together (FAST), is based on brain research to maximize children’s intellectual and emotional development, as well as resiliency.
Under its previous stewardship by the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board (ADAMHS), Cuyahoga County Kids FAST earned a Science & Service Award from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for its implementation.
Since arriving in Cuyahoga County in 2000, FAST has adapted to changing funding levels by increasing or decreasing the number of school sites that can participate. Cuyahoga County health and human services agency directors took a different approach when faced with reduced funding in summer 2011, deciding to find cost-saving strategies within the existing program.
As a result, management of the FAST program transferred to the Family & Children First Council (FCFC) of Cuyahoga County, which implemented cost savings that allow the county to continue to offer the same level of service despite budget cuts. In less than three months’ time, FCFC staff:
- determined the ideal level of paid personnel for effective program operation at each FAST location, and reduced staff accordingly;
- eliminated high training and supply costs by developing collaborations with entities for free space and supply usage;
- restructured the responsibilities of the FAST coordinator, the main person accountable for overseeing the program, so that the position is part rather than full time;
- assessed the existing program for ways it could adhere more strictly to the proven national FAST model,
- secured the Educational Service Center (ESC) of Cuyahoga County, which has existing relationships with school districts and superintendents, as the fiscal agent for FAST, and
- developed stringent procedures that streamline daily operations, which are currently being compiled into an operations manual.
Because of the success of these efficiencies, Cuyahoga County’s current FAST Coordinator was asked to present at the International FAST Conference Winter 2012, to share techniques with other “Super Users” (high-level FAST sites) who want to reach Cuyahoga County’s level of fidelity to the FAST model.
FAST uses weekly group sessions set within a child’s school to achieve its four goals: enhance family functioning; prevent children from failing in school; prevent substance abuse by the child and other family members; and reduce the stress that parents and children feel in daily life situations. Data from 2002 to 2008 show positive change for families in all goals.
Currently, Cuyahoga County ranks second in all Kids FAST users in number of sites and cycles, from a total of 61 national and international users of the Kids FAST curriculum.
“I started taking some of the ideas from FAST and using them at home. [My son’s] behavior just totally turned around. We didn’t have to go to a counselor anymore,” stated a parent in the first cycle of FAST operated under the leadership of FCFC.
To learn more about FAST or other out-of-school-time programming that benefits youth, contact Julie Fratoe, Program Officer IV/FAST Coordinator with FCFC, at (216) 348-3953.