Designed to investigate how children develop across their lives, Fast Track is a comprehensive intervention that provides academic tutoring, lessons in social skill development, and behavioral regulation models. Selection for Fast Track began when the participants entered kindergarten and the children were placed either in the intervention group or the control group. The intervention was guided by a developmental theory focusing on the interaction of multiple influences on the development of behavior.
Subsequently, the Fast Track project is based on the hypothesis that improving child competencies, parenting effectiveness, school context and school-home communications will, over time, contribute to preventing certain behaviors from early childhood through adolescence. Fast Track identified a sample of children in kindergarten through a multistage screening of nearly 10,000 children. With four communities participating (Durham, Nashville, rural Pennsylvania, and Seattle) and with the help of researchers from Duke, Washington University, Vanderbilt University and Penn State University, the participating sets of schools were matched on size, ethnic composition and poverty. They were also randomly assigned to intervention and control conditions. Three successive cohorts were recruited in 1991, 1992 and 1993, yielding a sample of 891 children (445 in the intervention group and 446 in the control group). Attrition throughout the study has been low, with participation rates for year 19 and 20 at 80 percent.
COVID-19 Supplemental Data Collection (2020). To explore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on substance use among adults, parents, and young children, participants in both Fast Track and the Great Smoky Mountains Study were surveyed about their personal behavior in Spring 2020. In Study 1, FT (n = 287) participants were surveyed at current ages 32-36 and GSMS (n = 348) GSMS participants were surveyed at current ages 35-40. The results show a strong impact of the pandemic on increasing reported substance use and abuse problems, internalizing and externalizing behaviors, sleep problems, and interpersonal and household disruption. In Study 2, participants who had been interviewed prior to the pandemic onset were re-interviewed after onset to test within-person change as well as the well-being and behavior of their children (FT n = 119, GSMS n = 108). Findings show an adverse impact of the pandemic onset on increasing substance abuse problems and a reduced use of harsh discipline by parents, especially among low-income families. In Study 3, participants who were interviewed prior to the pandemic onset (FT n = 337, GSMS n = 678) were compared with participants interviewed after onset as a natural experiment (FT n = 96, GSMS n = 86). As with the first two studies, the natural experiment revealed a significant impact of the pandemic onset on increasing substance-use problems and household disruption.