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What Works for Families-Positive Change in Eastern Utah

A family in Vernal, Utah, needed help. The husband was newly released from jail; the wife had just been released from the hospital because of physical abuse by her husband. They were attending court-mandated Positive Action Family Classes. During the class, instructors presented the core theory: the Positive Action Thoughts-Actions-Feelings Circle and philosophy. They talked about how cycles of positive thoughts, actions, and feelings create healthy families, and how negative cycles destroy families. As the class ended, the instructors gave each family a “Thoughts-Actions-Feelings Circle” Poster to use at home.

The family missed the next two sessions. Concerned, the instructors called them to find out why. The wife answered the phone and was very enthusiastic. She told the instructors about how she had come home from work one evening and found her husband in his dangerous mood. She knew she could no longer allow him to turn his anger into her pain, so she decided to leave and went to the bedroom to pack.

But this time, something different happened. Just as her husband’s rage was moving into high gear, he spotted the “Thoughts-Actions-Feelings Circle” Poster on the refrigerator, which was hung on the negative side. He realized he was caught in the grip of a negative cycle. He was stewing in angry thoughts that he would take out on his family. After seeing the poster, her husband remembered what he had learned about the Circle. He went to his wife and family and asked them not to leave. He said he would not take his anger out on them again.

Positive Action Family Classes began two years ago as a community-wide intervention in Uintah County, Utah, using a U.S. Department of Education Partnership in Character Education grant. The project involves the Uintah County School District, the Ute Indian Tribe, and several agencies, including the 8th District Juvenile Court, Division of Workforce Services, Northeastern Counseling Center, and Division of Child and Family Services. The synergy created from these organizations, united together in their support of Positive Action Family Classes, has resulted in a tremendous growth in participation and compelling results.

Before Positive Action was used for family classes, there were approximately five families who participated in each court-mandated session. Once Positive Action was initiated, however, participation rates grew to nine families per session, then to nineteen families, then thirty…and the numbers continue to grow. The most recent session had 70 families, only half of which were court-mandated.