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Widespread behavioral therapy for young people may be ineffective

New research from the University of Birmingham has revealed that a widely-used treatment for behavioral problems may not be effective in helping troubled young people and their families.

Functional Family Therapy (FFT) is a short-term intervention that is provided at over 270 sites worldwide, primarily in the United States, but also in Belgium, Ireland, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the UK.

FFT is designed to treat juvenile delinquency and the associated behaviors  that take a toll on youth, families, and communities. FFT is also sometimes used as a re-entry program for young people who are at risk of being removed from their homes or who are being released from institutions.

After analyzing 31 existing reviews of FFT, the researchers are questioning the effectiveness of this treatment for 10- to 18-year-olds. The evidence that the experts found in support of the therapy was not the best quality and may have been biased.

Paul Montgomery is a professor of Social Intervention in the University of Birmingham’s School of Social Policy.

“Our overview of FFT illuminates some real areas of concern around this treatment,” said Professor Montgomery.  “It appears that in nearly 40 years of existence, there remain a number of unanswered questions about the effectiveness and implementation of FFT.”

“FFT is intensive and costly. It may not be advisable to continue using the therapy without re-examining and testing its effects. Many reviews currently available are written by people developing and delivering FFT, demonstrating the need for independent and robust trials.”

Juvenile delinquency costs many countries a great deal of money. For example, the United States spends over $5.7 billion annually on incarcerating minors. In the UK, over 42 percent of minors are repeat offenders, which is up from ten years ago.

The study is published in the journal Research on Social Work Practice.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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