$2 million grant addresses parents’ role in children’s behavior 

​Evaluating a parent-training program in the vulnerable child welfare population is the focus of a $2 million grant awarded to the Center for Violence and Injury Prevention at Washington University in St. Louis’ Brown School.

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development award will fund research regarding the Pathways Triple P-Positive Parenting Program. Investigators will assess whether Triple P is effective when applied to families in the child welfare system, compared with no intervention.

State-run child welfare systems are called to work  with a family after reports that a parent has mistreated a child, making this a high-risk group that could benefit greatly from intervention.

“Pathways Triple P teaches strategies to manage parental anger, challenges negative parental attributes for child misbehavior, and seeks to help parents identify the effect of harsh discipline on their children while identifying causes of their harsh and critical parenting practices,” says lead investigator, Brown School assistant professor Patricia Kohl.

What is Triple P?

Created 30 years ago in Australia, Triple P educates and assists parents to prevent behavioral, emotional and developmental problems in children from birth to age 16. Triple P consists of parent intervention at five increasing levels of intensity:

• Level 1: Education about local resources
• Level 2: Individual or group consultation for those whose children have mild behavioral issues
• Level 3: Four-session training for parents of children with mild-to-moderate behaviors
• Level 4: Eight to 10 sessions for families with children who have more severe behavioral difficulties
• Level 5: Individual help for families in conflict or those dealing with significant stress or depression
Triple P has demonstrated success in other high-risk populations. However the program has not been tested within the child welfare system, a population particularly susceptible to behavioral issues and their future implications, according to Kohl.
 “The majority of children enter the child welfare service system due to abuse and/or neglect, and may be at especially high risk of disruptive behavior problems,” Kohl says. “This places them at risk for further adverse outcomes including the development of conduct disorder and juvenile delinquency, violent delinquency, and juvenile court involvement.”
The study assesses the impact and cost-effectiveness of the intervention. During the randomized, controlled trial, Kohl and additional researchers will provide individual, in-home intervention to 70 families. Over a 21-month period, they will evaluate the serviced families and 70 others who make up the control group.
The Triple P study will focus on three questions:
• How does the program impact disruptive behavior of 5-to-10-year-old children?
• Does it discourage the return of maltreatment, and if so, how?
• How do the costs and benefits of the program compare with those of treatment as usual?
Maltreatment of children has a great financial cost as well as a human toll, according to Kohl.  Both costs escalate for the many children whose behaviors persist into adulthood.
“It is critical that we identify the least costly means for effective intervention which achieves optimal outcomes with this population,” Kohl says. “Our inclusion of a cost benefit analysis will allow us to inform state-wide policy and practice, including the potential large scale uptake of an empirically supported intervention.”
Kohl, whose research targets the safety and mental health of children who have entered the child welfare system, teaches Social Work Practice in Early Childhood and Social Work Practice with Children in Families.