The Strong African American Families Program Improves Lives of Rural African American Youth

The Strong African American Families Program Improves Lives of Rural African American Youth


[MUSIC] NARRATOR: Dr. Gene Brody and colleagues at
the Center for Family Research at the University of Georgia developed a program to improve
the well-being and outcomes of rural African American youth by strengthening parenting
practices and youth protective factors. The benefits of this Strong African American Families,
or SAAF, program have been demonstrated in multiple randomized controlled studies conducted
for nearly two decades. DR. BRODY: The SAAF program shows how supportive
family relationships, along with the development of youth protective processes like a positive
racial identity, self-regulation, and the ability to resist peer influences, can counter
some of the challenging circumstances that rural African American youth find themselves
in in their day-to-day lives. NARRATOR: The researchers initially developed
SAAF to help rural African American communities in the “Black Belt” of the southeastern United
States. These communities face challenges such as high poverty rates and particularly
high rates of childhood poverty. In 2017, 30 to 100 percent of school-age children in
many southeastern rural districts lived in poverty. These youths face challenges including food insecurity, lack of employment opportunities,
limited health care and prevention, and racial discrimination. Living with these stressors puts children at risk for detrimental outcomes, including
harmful behaviors, such as drug use, other addictions, early sexual involvement, and
emotional eating. Many youths who grow up poor remain in poverty as adults, particularly
among African Americans. DR. BRODY: Many rural African American young
people grow up in poverty or in working-poor conditions and experience high levels of racial
discrimination. Remarkably, many of these youths do not show any adverse effects of
these experiences, and our research found, prior to our developing SAAF, that this was
due to having supportive family relationships that shielded them from the negative aspects
of these circumstances. NARRATOR: Dr. Brody’s team interviewed more
than 1,000 families to identify the parenting practices of the families whose children thrived.
They found that in these communities, parents who applied high levels of parental control
and were very involved in their kids’ lives had a protective effect. Similarly, high levels
of monitoring, laced with emotional support, reduced harmful outcomes.
The researchers then created the SAAF program to teach those practices to parents in the
community. They focused on families with 10- to 14-year-old children. This is a critical
age for heading off unhealthy behaviors that can emerge in adolescence and have potentially
lifelong consequences. The SAAF intervention brings parents and children together in seven weekly two-and-a-half-hour gatherings. Each week, trained community members moderate
discussions and activities with caregivers and children. Some of the topics are specifically targeted at either the adults or the children. Other topics and activities pertain to
both parents and children. DR. BRODY: Young people at this age are moving through puberty and grappling with biological
changes that come with it. At the same time, they’re also becoming more autonomous, spending
less time with their parents, and modeling more of their behavior after those of their peers.
And if you examine the epidemiologic data, this is a time in life when both conduct problems
and depressive symptomology begin to increase. NARRATOR: Dr. Brody and colleagues first implemented
the SAAF intervention with 677 families in rural Georgia in 2002, and have been examining
its effects ever since. Compared with nonparticipating parents from the same communities, parents
from the participating families were more likely to practice positive, communicative
parenting; less likely to exhibit harsh parenting; such as shouting at or striking their children;
and less likely to suffer from depression. Children who participated in SAAF exhibited
greater self-control than nonparticipating peers; were less likely to engage in high-risk
behaviors, such as alcohol, drug, or cigarette use, during adolescence and young adulthood;
less likely to have conduct problems at age 14; less likely to be obese at age 25; less
likely to live in poverty as young adults; and more likely to earn higher incomes. DR. BRODY: Our research over the past 16 years on the Strong African American Families Program
has shown that supportive parenting can protect young people from the adverse effects of economic
hardship and racial discrimination on drug use and their mental health. NARRATOR: Dr. Brody and colleagues’ most recent studies suggest that SAAF can even buffer
children against the physiological impacts of living with relentless stress. High-risk
SAAF participants had lower levels of stress markers and cellular aging at age 20, as well
as evidence of enhanced neurodevelopment. DR. BRODY: These results show how a drug use
prevention program like the Strong African American Families Program can prevent stress
from getting under the skin and into the brain. We have more work to do to really understand
these findings. We’re doing that work now, and we’re trying to figure out how SAAF impacts
the immune system and neural development. NARRATOR: Additional analyses confirmed that
the SAAF participants’ improved outcomes were mediated by the supportive parenting and strengthened
youth protective factors that the program promotes, confirming the program’s effectiveness.
Since the first implementation of SAAF in Georgia, the program has also been introduced
in numerous other rural and urban communities across the United States. [MUSIC]

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