EARLSCOURT SOCIAL SKILLS GROUP PROGRAM

Principal Investigator: Debra J. Pepler

Level of Intervention: Indicated

Target Population: Teacher-identified moderately aggressive or disruptive children in Grades 1 though 6 deficient in social and social-cognitive skills.

References: Pepler, King, Craig, Byrd, & Bream (1995)

Theory (Risk & Protective Factors Targeted):
Based on research that a variety of mental health problems are associated with deficient social skills (Coie & Kupersmidt, 1983) and poor peer relations (Parker & Asher, 1987). Aggressive children, in particular, are deficient in a number of social skills (e.g. prosocial behavior) and exhibit maladaptive social cognitions (e.g. poor problem solving, hostile attribution bias). In addition, interventions that only target one context where maladaptive behavior is present, are less likely to be successful in changing that pattern or having improvements generalize.

Description of Intervention:
The program addresses factors within the individual child (i.e. social skills), but also attempts to alter the family, school, and peer systems.

Social Skills Component:
This school-based program is based on social cognitive and social learning theory, using a combination of Goldstein’s Skillstreaming techniques (Goldstein, Sprafkin, Gershaw, & Klein, 1980) and social learning principles and procedures. It used a group format to conduct twice-weekly 75-minute sessions for 12 to 15 weeks. The groups were led by two trained child care workers and contained approximately 7 children in each group. Social-learning principles (e.g. modeling, reinforcement) were employed to teach the skills.

Eight basic skills presented in program modules of three sessions each: Problem Solving, Feeling Identification, Listening, Following Instructions, Joining In, Self-Control, Managing Teasing, and Resisting Fights.

Parent Component:
Training sessions offered to help parents learn more effective behavior management techniques and to support skill development in the child.

Classroom Component:
In order to generalize skills to classroom setting and the peer group, homework assignments, teacher involvement, and classroom skill presentations were also included.

Research Subjects:
The sample consisted of 74 aggressive (63 boys, 11 girls) children in Grades 1 through 6 with a mean age 9.2 years. The sample included both regular and special education students. Subjects were eligible for participation if they were identified as aggressive by both the teacher (they scored above the mid-point on a 5-point scale of aggressive and disruptive behavior) and the principal, and they had parental consent to participate. Prior to treatment the mean parent and teacher ratings for externalizing behavior were in the clinical range.

Research Design:
Over a two-year period, subjects were randomly assigned to one of the two Fall sessions or a Spring session. The spring session group served as a waiting-list control group. There were 40 treatment subjects and 34 in the wait-list control group.

Outcomes:
Analysis of covariance was used with Time 1 scores entered as co-variates. For follow-up analyses groups were compared to rule out differential attrition.

Post-Test:
Teachers rated treatment children as exhibiting significantly less externalizing behavior (TRF-CBCL; Achenbach & Edelbrock, 1983) compared to controls (p<.05). There were no group differences on parent ratings of externalizing behavior or peer ratings of aggression.

Clinically significant change was defined as .5SD improvement between Time 1 and Time 2. Thirty-six percent of the treatment group made clinically significant improvements compared to 18% of the controls.

Follow-Up (3 month & 9 month)
The attrition rate was similar between the students that dropped out at Time 1 and Time 2 and those that remained at Time 4. The original treatment effect of teacher ratings was maintained at 3-month follow up (p<.02) but not at the 9 month follow up period.

Strengths & Limitations:
The Earlscourt Social Skills Group Program is a preventive intervention for children exhibiting aggressive or disruptive behavior in school. It is a multi-component program that focuses on building children’s social skills and modifying the home and classroom contexts to support the children’s use of more adaptive behavior. The findings from this single evaluation that utilized a randomized trial design provide some initial support for the effectiveness of the program. There were significant methodological weaknesses, however, that limit the conclusions that can be drawn from the data. The sample size was somewhat small and the changes in child behavior were only evident according to teacher reports. There were no intervention effects according to parent ratings or peer reports. In addition, teachers who provided ratings of the students’ behavior were the same as those who administered the program. The authors noted that the outcome effects were marginally significant (p<.09) at the 9 month follow-up when different teachers rated the students. In this evaluation, no fidelity measures were collected and dosage was not measured. In addition, the evaluation did not allow for any determination of which components were critical for program success. There has been no independent replication.

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