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Family-Centered Intervention Effectively Reduces Risky Behavior Among Hispanic Youth

Science Update

A family-centered program that improves parent-child dynamics and family functioning is more effective at discouraging Hispanic youth from engaging in risky behavior than programs that target specific behaviors, according to a study published in the December 2007 issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Hispanic adolescents are at higher risk for substance abuse and risky sexual behavior than other ethnic groups, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while they represent 14 percent of the U.S. population, they account for a disproportionate 18 percent of all HIV/AIDS cases in the nation.1

Several types of interventions exist that aim to reduce or prevent risky behavior like substance use and unsafe sexual behavior among non-Hispanic white youth, but no studies have been conducted to determine the relative effectiveness of similar programs targeted to Hispanic youth. Guillermo Prado, Ph.D., of the University of Miami, and colleagues randomly assigned 266 eighth-grade Hispanic youth and their primary caregivers (usually the mother) to one of three interventions:

  • Familias Unidas plus Parent-Preadolescent Training for HIV Prevention (PATH)
  • English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) plus PATH
  • ESOL plus HeartPower for Hispanics, an American Heart Association program

Familias Unidas plus PATH was designed to promote positive adolescent development by increasing parental involvement and teaching more effective parental communication techniques. The program was designed to be more consistent with Hispanic cultural expectations, in which life is family-centered and vital to an individual’s emotional support. PATH is designed to specifically increase parent-adolescent communication about sexual behavior and HIV risks, but it does not target family dynamics specifically. HeartPower for Hispanics is designed to encourage healthier behaviors among Hispanic youth to reduce obesity and heart disease risks.

The interventions were conducted over one year, and researchers followed up with participants at one and two years after the intervention ended. They found that the Familias Unidas plus PATH intervention was much more effective than the other two interventions in reducing cigarette use, and moderately more effective in reducing illicit drug use and unsafe sexual behavior among the adolescents.

“It is noteworthy that Familias Unidas + PATH produced favorable outcomes among the youth, even though most sessions in this group were conducted only with the parents.” said Dr. Prado. “The findings also suggest that targeting specific health behaviors such as cigarette smoking and risky sexual behavior within the context of strengthening the family may be the most effective approach for Hispanic adolescents.”


Prado G, Pantin H, Briones E, Schwartz SJ, Feaster D, Huang S, Sullivan S, Tapia MI, Sabillon E, Lopez B, Szapocznik J. A randomized controlled trial of a parent-centered intervention in prevention substance use and HIV risk behavior in Hispanic adolescents . Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 2007 Dec; 75(6): 914-926.

1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report, Vol. 17: 2005. 2006. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.