Population-wide parenting study lowers child-abuse injuries, foster placements
A University of South Carolina study shows that key indicators of child maltreatment, such as abuse injuries and foster placements, drop when parents community-wide are offered access to proven parenting interventions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced publication of the findings in the online edition of Prevention Science Monday (Jan. 26.)
Dr. Ron Prinz at the University of South Carolina led the CDC-funded study. Conducted in 18 South Carolina counties, nine of which were chosen randomly for the parenting intervention, the prevention study was the first to reduce child maltreatment in a test involving several large geographic areas.
Called the Triple P-Positive Parenting Program, which was developed by study co-investigator Dr. Matt Sanders at the University of Queensland, this system of strategies and tools provides parents with multiple levels of parenting support of increasing intensity to match each family’s needs. Triple P was made available to parents with children from birth to 12 years throughout each community, not just parents in crisis.
“We didn’t single out parents who could be in trouble,” Prinz said. “Rather, Triple P provided flexible ways for all parents to get information and support.”
The study found that implementing Triple P broadly led to lower rates of confirmed child maltreatment, foster-care placements and child injuries requiring hospital treatment. For the participating communities, which had about 100,000 children under age 8, the observed effects actually meant 688 fewer maltreated children, 240 fewer out-of-home placements and 60 fewer injured children.
“We capitalized on the existing workforces in the intervention counties, expanded the range of workers and practitioners who could provide proven parenting supports and publicized easy access to parenting support,” said Sanders.
Triple P revolves around five core principles: ensuring a safe, engaging environment; promoting a positive learning environment; using assertive discipline; maintaining reasonable expectations; and taking care of oneself as a parent. Triple P translates these principles into practical parenting strategies for strengthening parent-child relationships, encouraging positive behavior, teaching new skills, managing misbehaviors and preventing problems in high-risk situations (such as shopping, mealtime, bedtime).
Dr. Dennis Embry, director of the PAXIS Institute in Arizona and an authority on the dissemination and adoption of large-scale programs, said the study has major policy implications.
“For the first time, policymakers nationwide will have the ability to estimate the reduction of child maltreatment that can result from applying a universal system of parenting supports in states, counties and communities,” Embry said. “That wasn’t possible with prior studies that focused on a small number of highly selected families.
“To give a sense of the impact, if the results of the new study were applied to families with children under age 8 in all 50 states, confirmed cases of child maltreatment could drop by 207,000 annually. Moreover, 73,000 fewer children annually would land in foster care, and 18,000 fewer children would suffer medical injuries from child-maltreatment,” Embry said.
Prinz said that the same Triple P interventions for preventing child maltreatment also tackle children’s social, emotional and behavioral problems and promote positive development of young children entering school.
“Documented in more than 70 published studies, the Triple P approach has been shown to prevent or reduce these problems in children, freeing them from reliance on medications or other costly therapies,” Prinz said. “As a result, the impact on children and families has been positive and lowered the incidence of many costly social and health problems.”
Prinz said implementing a community-wide program such as Triple P does not have to be costly to be effective.
“Prevention or reduction of parenting difficulties and serious child problems at a community-wide level does not necessarily require many new staff positions,” he said. “In fact, the results of this study and previous studies of Triple P were achieved simply by providing tested and proven tools to a broad range of existing service providers. Costly new systems of care were not needed to achieve significant prevention effects.”