HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — As the school year starts, so does a program from the Family Services Center that brings students, parents, and services together in one place.

The “Fast” or Families and Schools Together has been helping students and families for 25 years.

Cynthia Patterson works as the Education and Community Resources Director for the Family Services Center. She says FAST is a school-based early prevention program designed to strengthen families and a student’s education while also reducing incidents of child neglect.

“The program is a whole family experience. So, we come in and share a family meal together. We have family-focused games, fun activities for the kiddos, as well as brief sessions on protective factors,” Patterson explained.

The program serves kids from Pre-K to 7th grade in Title 1 schools throughout Madison City, Madison County and Huntsville City Schools. 

Patterson says there are many benefits to the program. According to Family Services Center, research shows family stress can be an indication of potential child abuse.

FAST provides opportunities for parents/guardians to increase their social connections with other parents, teachers, and providers while obtaining much-needed community resources and support. Resources for parents can include food pantries, utility assistance and job programs.

“We focus on the parents. Teaching them how to, that parental resilience, social connections, basic knowledge of child abuse incidents and how to avoid that, child development and concrete support for adults in the community,” she stated. 

The FAST program occurs in three, 6-week cohorts throughout the school year. Families enrolled in the FAST program meet every Thursday for six weeks.

As of 2020, FAST has impacted the educational experience of 46 families, 93 students, and 49 adults.