Brief Strategic Family Therapy—Gang Adaptation

Intervention; Ages 12–17


(Read the criteria for this rating)
  • Promising gang program


The parent program model of Brief Strategic Family Therapy (BSFT) was designed to strengthen Hispanic families and thereby eliminate or reduce behavior problems, including drug use. It targets children and adolescents aged six to 18 years. An adapted version of BSFT targeted an extremely high-risk adolescent Mexican American population in an historic gang-ridden city, San Antonio. The experiment included only gang-affiliated (i.e., self-identified or having a friend or family member in a gang) Mexican American adolescents 12–17 years of age, who reported current (past month) use of alcohol or illicit drugs and use of these substances on at least six occasions in the past year. This BSFT-adapted version took into account cultural values of Mexican American families as well as contextual factors, including frequent gang affiliation in high crime neighborhoods characterized by low levels of education, multigenerational use of drugs, extensive criminality, and high incarceration rates. Three behavioral problems were addressed (delinquency, impulsivity, and hyperactivity) along with drug/alcohol use. In addition to the adapted BSFT family therapy, gang diversion training for the adolescents and gang awareness for the parent were provided by outreach workers.

This BSFT adapted version proved effective with a sample of gang-involved boys and girls (Valdez, Cepeda, Parrish, et al., 2013). The program reduced gang membership by 22% in the near term (6 months), and there were significant differences between the BFST and control groups on adolescent alcohol use at 6 months and parents’ reports of their children’s delinquency. However, drug use was not reduced in the treatment group. The researchers suggested that certain outcomes were attenuated largely because of the difficulties associated with “adapting culturally relevant evidence-based interventions to highly vulnerable populations” such as Hispanic families in this study location.

Risk Factors

Conduct disorders (authority conflict/rebellious/stubborn/disruptive/antisocial)
General delinquency involvement
High alcohol/drug use
Low psychosocial maturity (low temperance, responsibility, and perspective)
Physical violence/aggression
Antisocial parents
Child maltreatment (abuse or neglect)
Delinquent siblings
Family history of problem behavior/criminal involvement
Family violence (child maltreatment, partner violence, conflict)
Having a teenage mother
High parental stress/maternal depression
Lack of orderly and structured activities within the family
Lived/living with a gang member
Low parental attachment to child/adolescent
Parental use of physical punishment/harsh and/or erratic discipline practices
Poor parental supervision (control, monitoring, and child management)
Poor parent-child relations or communication
Moved to a new neighborhood
Neighborhood antisocial environment
Association with antisocial/aggressive/delinquent peers; high peer delinquency
Association with gang-involved peers/relatives
Peer alcohol/drug use


National Gang Center: Effective program


Family Therapy Training Institute of Miami
Ninth Floor
1221 Brickell Avenue
Miami, FL 33133
Phone: (888) 527-3828
Fax: (305) 661-5172
Web site:

Training Contact

Kathleen A. Shea, Ph.D.
Family Therapy Training Institute of Miami
Ninth Floor
1221 Brickell Avenue
Miami, FL 33133
Phone: (305) 668-0850
Fax: (305) 661-5172
Web site:


Valdez, A., Cepeda, A., Parrish, D., Horowitz, R., & Kaplan, C. (2013). An adapted Brief Strategic Family Therapy for gang-affiliated Mexican American adolescents. Research on Social Work Practice, 23, 383-396.

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