The Family Check-Up

The Family Check-Up is a brief, strengths-based intervention effective for reducing children’s problem behaviors by improving parenting and family management practices. The Family Check-Up integrates assessment with motivation-enhancement strategies to tailor intervention goals to meet the unique needs of each family and increase family engagement. The Family Check-Up has more than 20 years of evidence demonstrating strong intervention effects.

The Family Check-Up provides parents with the tools that they need to manage their children’s behaviors effectively and to build a strong and positive relationship with their children. Any professional that provides services to families with children can use the Family Check-Up.

The FCU model has been used successfully in diverse service settings, including community mental health agencies, publicly funded health centers, public schools, hospitals, university clinics, and Native American tribal communities.

Family Check-Up Impact

More than 20 years of research shows that the Family Check-Up leads to positive child outcomes in early childhood and adolescence.  The Family Check-Up works by helping parents improve their parenting practices – such as positive behavior support, monitoring, and setting limits – and by enhancing the quality of all of their family relationships.  Research also shows that the Family Check-Up leads to reductions in depression among parents, which, in turn, promotes improvements in child wellbeing.

The Family Check-Up is recognized as a model program by several registries, including:

Impact in Childhood

Compared with children of families who never participated in a Family Check-Up, children of families that did participate have:

  • Fewer behavior and emotional problems at home and in school
  • Better emotion regulation
  • Increased school readiness: Improvements in early language development and higher academic achievement
  • Reductions in exposure to neglect
  • Decreased risk for obesity

Impact in Adolescence

Compared with adolescents of families who never participated in a Family Check-Up, adolescents of those families that did participate have:

  • Lower rates of drug use
  • Less antisocial behavior
  • Less bullying in school
  • Fewer symptoms of depression
  • High rates of school attendance
  • Better grades

Long-term Impact into Early Adulthood

Adolescents of families that participated in the Family Check-Up were followed into early adulthood.  The Family Check-Up has long-lasting effects that include reductions in problem behavior, and substance use and dependence.  Again, compared with families who did not participate in a Family Check-Up,  adolescents of families who did participate had significant reductions in substance use:

  • 30% less marijuana use
  • 54% less tobacco use
  • 25% less alcohol use
  • And were 38% less likely to be arrested in early adulthood

Impact for Parents

Compared with parents who did not participate in a Family Check-Up, parents who did reported improvements in their wellbeing and parenting practices, including:

  • Improved wellbeing and reductions in depressive symptoms
  • Increased social support
  • Improved parenting, specifically: increased use of positive behavior support and proactive parenting strategies
  • Less parental neglect of children
  • Improved relationship with children
  • Improved co-parent relationship, including lower levels of conflict
  • Increased use of existing community resources

REACH Institute and our collaborative relationship:

Dr. Thomas Dishion, developer of the Family Check-Up, founded the Arizona State University REACH Institute in 2014 to support national and international dissemination of the Family Check-Up and several other family-centered evidence-based programs ( The REACH Institute, which is housed within Arizona State University’s Department of Psychology, bridges the gap between university-based research and practice to advance the education, health, and well-being of children and families. The REACH Institute promotes the development and utilization of technology and systems that support training, quality assurance monitoring, program evaluation, and optimization of program-service system fit to sustain program implementation in real-world delivery settings. REACH offers implementation readiness assessment and planning, training, consultation, certification, fidelity monitoring, outcome and process evaluation, technological support, and train-the-trainer activities to promote implementation of evidence-based programs with fidelity and sustainability. Agencies interested in the Family Check-Up or REACH’s other evidence based programs (see can contact REACH at

The Center for Parents and Children works in collaboration with The REACH Institute to facilitate the implementation of the Family Check-Up in the Pittsburgh area.

The Family Check-Up: Selected Publications

The following papers describe in greater detail the findings presented above.

  • Shaw, D. S., Galán, C., Lemery-Chalfant, K., Dishion, T. J., Elam, K. K., Wilson, M. N., & Gardner , F. (2019).  Early predictors of children’s early-starting conduct problems: Child, family, genetic, and intervention effects. Development and Psychopathology, 31, 1911-1921.
    • Several research teams have previously traced patterns of emerging conduct problems (CP) from early or middle childhood. The current study expands on this previous literature by using a genetically-informed, experimental, and long-term longitudinal design to examine trajectories of early-emerging conduct problems and early childhood discriminators of such patterns from the toddler period to adolescence. The sample represents a cohort of 731 toddlers and diverse families recruited based on socioeconomic, child, and family risk, varying in urbanicity and assessed on 9 occasions between ages 2 to 14.  In addition to examining child, family, and community level discriminators of patterns of emerging conduct problems, we were able to account for genetic susceptibility using polygenic scores and using the study’s experimental design, whether random assignment to the Family Check-Up (FCU) discriminated trajectory groups. In addition, in accord with differential susceptibility theory, we also tested whether effects of the FCU were stronger for those children at higher genetic susceptibility. Results augmented previous findings documenting the influence of child (inhibitory control, gender) and family (harsh parenting, parental depression and educational attainment) risk. In addition, children in the FCU were overrepresented in the persistent low versus persistent high CP group, but such direct effects were qualified by an interaction between the intervention and genetic susceptibility that was consistent with differential susceptibility. Implications are discussed for early identification and specifically, prevention efforts addressing early child and family risk.
  • Brennan, L. M., Shelleby, E. C., Shaw, D. S., Gardner, F., Dishion, T. J., & Wilson, M.N. (2013). Psychology, 105(3), 762.
  • Dishion, T. J., Shaw, D., Connell, A., Gardner, F., Weaver, C., & Wilson, M. (2008). The Family Check‐Up with high‐risk indigent families: Preventing problem behavior by increasing parents’ positive behavior support in early childhood. Child Development, 79(5), 1395-1414.
  • Dishion, T. J., Brennan, L. M., Shaw, D. S., McEachern, A. D., Wilson, M. N., & Jo, B. (2014). Prevention of problem behavior through annual family check-ups in early childhood: intervention effects from home to early elementary school. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology42(3), 343-354.
  • Lunkenheimer, E. S., Dishion, T. J., Shaw, D. S., Connell, A. M., Gardner, F., Wilson, M. N., & Skuban, E. M. (2008). Collateral benefits of the Family Check-Up on early childhood school readiness: Indirect effects of parents’ positive behavior support. Developmental Psychology, 44(6), 1737.
  • McEachern, A. D., Fosco, G. M., Dishion, T. J., Shaw, D. S., Wilson, M. N., & Gardner, F. (2013). Collateral benefits of the Family Check-Up in early childhood on caregiver’s social support and relationship satisfaction. Journal of Family Psychology.
  • Shaw, D. S., Connell, A., Dishion, T. J., Wilson, M. N., & Gardner, F. (2009). Improvements in maternal depression as a mediator of intervention effects on early childhood problem behavior. Development and Psychopathology, 21(02), 417-439.
  • Shaw, D. S., Dishion, T. J., Supplee, L., Gardner, F., & Arnds, K. (2006). Randomized trial of a family-centered approach to prevention of early conduct problems: 2-year effects of the Family Check-Up in early childhood. Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 74(1), 1-9.

Intervention Effects in Adolescence

  • Dishion, T., Granic, I. and Bullock, B. (2002). Pragmatism in modeling peer influence: Dynamics, outcomes and change processes. Development and Psychopathology, 14(4), 969-981.
  • Dishion,T.J.;  Nelson, N.E.;  Kavanagh, K. (2003). The Family Check-Up with high-risk young adolescents: Preventing early-onset substance use by parent monitoring. Behavior Therapy 34, 553-571.
  • Connell, A. M., & Dishion, T. J. (2008). Reducing depression among at-risk early adolescents: Three-year effects of a family-centered intervention embedded within schools. Journal of Family Psychology, 22, 574-585.
  • Connell, A., M., Dishion, T. J., & Klostermann, S. (2011). Family Check-Up effects on adolescent arrest trajectories: Variation by developmental subtype. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 22(2), 367-380.
  • Stormshak, E. A., Connell, A. M., Véronneau, M. H., Myers, M. W., Dishion, T. J., Kavanagh, K., & Caruthers, A. S. (2011). An ecological approach to interventions with high-risk students in schools: Using the Family Check-Up to motivate parents’ positive behavior support. Child Development, 82, 209-255.
  • Stormshak, E. A., Fosco, G. M., & Dishion, T. J. (2010). Implementing interventions with families in schools to increase youth school engagement: The Family Check-Up model. School Mental Health, 2(2), 82-92.
  • Van Ryzin, M. J., Stormshak, E. A., & Dishion, T. J. (2012). Engaging parents in the Family Check-Up in middle school: Longitudinal effects on family conflict and problem behavior through the transition to high school. Journal of Adolescent Health, 50(6), 627-633.
  • Veronneau, Dishion, & Connell (in press). Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.  10 year ITT effects on marijuana use.