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How Impressive Are 'The Incredible Years'? Researchers Can't Say

A new review of the research about The Incredible Years, an intervention composed of training programs for children, parents, and teachers intended to reduce children's aggression and improve their social skills, has found no clear conclusions can be drawn about the program's effectiveness for preschool age children with disabilities.

After the What Works Clearinghouse reviewed 166 studies of the program, it found that just three studies met its review protocol for early childhood interventions for children with disabilities, but of those, none met the organization's evidence standards

The program was developed by Carolyn Webster-Stratton, a professor and director of the Parenting Clinic at the University of Washington. It focuses on building social and emotional skills for students in preschool through early elementary school. The program can be delivered to children referred for difficult behavior or to an entire classroom as a preventive measure. In a classroom setting, the teacher presents 20- to 30-minute lessons two to three times a week during circle time. Alternately, the child program can be conducted as a pullout program for small groups of children. Lessons cover recognizing and understanding feelings, getting along with friends, anger management, problem solving, and behavior at school.

The What Works Clearinghouse examined studies of The Incredible Years for preschool children with disabilities in early education settings that were published or released between 1989 and 2011.

The Incredible Years is still reviewing WWC's report, Administrative Director Lisa St. George said. She added that they are respectful of the publication, "but we are not sure all the studies that could be considered were considered. We are working on a response to them."

The WWC's review may not matter to those who believe in the effectiveness of The Incredible Years, which is an award-winning program used in 15 countries. A version of the program for parents will be offered in Ohio starting next week. And it's been associated with helping prevent childhood obesity.

Some of its accolades include the 1997 National Mental Health Lela Rowland Prevention Award for best mental health prevention program, the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention "Blueprint" award, and the Department of Health and Social Services, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention award for "exemplary" interventions.

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