media release

At-risk youth program charts new approach

November 04, 2013

Dave Pasalich, 778.782.9367,
Robert McMahon, 778.782.9031,
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035,


Simon Fraser University psychologist Robert McMahon says a provincial agency’s financial support of a novel SFU program is timely in light of the scrutiny under which the provincial government’s child-foster care program has fallen of late.

“A recent report by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, raised some significant concerns with respect to foster care in the province,” explains McMahon. “It is hoped that Dr. Dave Pasalich’s work, in addition to related research activities at SFU’s Institute for the Reduction of Youth Violence, will contribute to current provincial efforts concerning research and community intervention focused on meeting the needs of vulnerable children in B.C.” 

McMahon, director of SFU’s Institute for the Reduction of Youth Violence, is referring to Pasalich’s Preventative Parenting Program for Family Reunification. Pasalich is developing the program under the auspices of the institute and the Child and Family Research Institute.  

The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) recently awarded Pasalich $124,500 (over three years) in postdoctoral salary funding, which will help sustain his research.

The SFU postdoctoral fellow is helping clinical professionals and family services agencies implement well-researched, proven parenting techniques that can reunite high-risk youth living in out-of-home care with their families.

He has spent the past year building relationships with local community agencies as part of his plan to help them adopt evidence-based programs that can make a difference.

“I’m interested in building stronger parent/child relationships. We know what works from research, but we need to get it adopted by front-line workers,” says the former postdoc fellow at Florida International University in Miami, Florida.

Mentoring at-risk youth in Australia, the United States and Canada has led Pasalich to discover the universality of youths’ problems and needs in foster care.

“They all want to be with their blood family, regardless of the problems they encounter, or how their parents treat them. Parent-management training programs have shown success in 10 to 15 sessions, improving parenting, and treatment of children’s behaviour problems.”

As an example of this, Pasalich points to the evidence-based parenting program Helping the Noncompliant Child (HNC), which he is referencing in his MSFHR-related research.

Co-developed by McMahon and an American researcher, HNC focuses on helping children aged three-to-seven-years-old with high levels of oppositional and other conduct problem behaviours.

"A strength of this parenting program is that therapists work with parents and children together during sessions,” explains Pasalich.

“For instance, parents are coached on how to positively respond to and encourage their children’s appropriate behaviour while playing with them. This technique accelerates parents’ ability to learn new skills in a setting that is engaging to young children."

Pasalich says his research aims to bridge the gap between clinical research and health services by highlighting the success of programs such as the HNC.

Backgrounder: Institute for the Reduction of Youth Violence

The Institute for the Reduction of Youth Violence at SFU is involved in activities at the Child and Family Research Institute, the largest research institute of its kind in Western Canada.

The SFU-based institute focuses primarily on developing, implementing and evaluating a range of evidence-based interventions to prevent and reduce youth violence and other serious conduct problems.

These programs address conduct problems that appear during early and later childhood, and adolescence, including youth who are in the juvenile justice system.

Another of the institute’s key objectives is researching the many ways in which conduct problems develop and persist.

Simon Fraser University is Canada's top-ranked comprehensive university and one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 120,000 alumni in 130 countries.


Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities.

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