Adapting Services and Addressing Health Determinants
Management: REISA, AMI-Québec, English Montreal School Board
Partners: Laurier Macdonald Community Learning Centre
REISA’s Role: Develop and Support
FRIENDS for Life is a program that builds resilience and self esteem in children by teaching cognitive, behavioral, and emotional skills in a simple, well-designed and structured format. Resilient children have been found to cope better with feelings of fear, worry, depression and anxiety. They are better equipped to deal with emotional distress and less likely to develop psychological disorders. A recent Quebec study conducted with 1,759 mothers over six years found that 15% of preschoolers have atypically high levels of depression and anxiety. The FRIENDS program is one response to this wake-up call.
Based on more than 10 years of comprehensive research and evaluation, FRIENDS for Life was developed in Australia by Dr. Paula Barrett, a clinical child psychologist. It is currently being used in eleven countries worldwide including Canada.
As a result of a collaboration between AMI-Québec, the English Montreal School Board-EMSB and REISA, the program was piloted in General Vanier and Gerald McShane Elementary schools in East Montréal, for the first time in the province in Québec, in January 2010.
Teacher feedback recorded at launch:
- Teachers see a lot of anxiety and depression in the students; signs are obvious
- Students cannot hide their emotions, e.g. stomach ache, headache, sadness, etc.; even though they do not vocalize or know themselves how/why they are feeling a certain way
- Fun Friends method is interesting and creative
- Workbooks are easy to use, step-by-step instruction manual for teachers
- Easy implementation: curriculum is flexible therefore program can be easily integrated
- Ethics and Religion Class teaches about feelings, emotions, etc. therefore Fun Friends can be integrated into it
- High expectation of parent involvement and cooperation because of the age of the children
- Pre- and post evaluation sheets for the teachers are easy and quick to fill out
Evaluation conducted by Dr. Bill Bukowski, Psychology Department, Concordia University:
The children participating in the intervention were rated by their parents and their teachers on a measure known as the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire. The 25 items in this measure are intended to measure five domains of functioning. They are Prosocial Behavior, Emotional Well-Being, Conduct Disorder, Hyperactivity, and Peer Problems.
The ratings were made using a three point scale (0, 1, 2) in which higher ratings indicated a stronger presence of the concept being evaluated. Ratings were made just prior to the intervention (Time 1) and four months after it was completed (Time 2).
Differences between the Time 1 and the Time 2 ratings were examined and three differences were observed. With the teacher assessments, a decrease was observed in the measure of Peer Problems and an increase was seen in the measure of Conduct Disorder. With the parent assessments, a decrease was observed in the measure of Peer Problems.
In the Winter of 2010, REISA and AMI-Québec presented a videoconference to inform regional English-speaking communities of the program. The program was imported to several regions across the province of Québec, including Laval. Furthermore, REISA introduced the program to the French local school board in 2011.
A working group was formed aimed at influencing the development of policy regarding enhancing resiliency in children.