So says Lynn McDonald, Professor in Social Work at Middlesex University and founder of Families and Schools Together (FAST), a programme which for 25 years has been empowering children and their families and building stronger bonds with communities.
The programme is designed for primary and secondary school-age pupils, with a particular focus on children between three and five years old. Groups of parents and children from disadvantaged communities are engaged in a cycle of eight weekly sessions held at local schools, in which they are encouraged to share meals and spend dedicated parent-and-child time learning and playing together. These may seem like simple gestures, but the impact of FAST on those who have taken part in the programme cannot be underestimated.
After completing a FAST cycle, families have reported better relationships at home between parents and children, improved child behaviour and academic performance, closer bonds between community members and better relationships between parents and their children's schools.
"This is a joint effort," Professor McDonald says. "Parents and schools are working together, and this is what makes FAST such a success."
At Middlesex University, we're proud to have been championing FAST since 2008, developing and delivering the programme across the UK. Partnering with children's charity Save the Children, we've run FAST in 400 schools to date and reached more than 8,000 families and more than 15,000 children.
London's Westminster Council – which has impacted more than 800 children and more than 400 families through FAST – recently reported a decrease in family conflict and children's emotional symptoms, as well as fewer problems at schools and between peers in those who had completed the programme. They also reported an increase in families supporting each other within the community after taking part in FAST.
"FAST is a wonderful example of how Knowledge Transfer can help transform the lives of those in our communities," says Richard Beaumont, Deputy Dean of the School of Health and Education at Middlesex. "Supported by a unique and innovative partnership with Save the Children UK, FAST uses research outcomes to provide an evidence base in order to build social capacity within poor and deprived areas, making a real difference through improving educational attainment and wellbeing."