Methods. Study participants were 152 adults (78 men) recruited from a rural Oregon county over a three-year interval and who were supervised in the community through the county's corrections department. Referrals to the project were made by parole officers, the courts, community agencies, and through cold calls to newspaper and county listed supervisees. Participants lived with (74%) or had regular contact with (26%) a minor child aged 15 years or younger. Participants were randomly assigned to two groups: participation in PMT (a 12-week manualized intervention); or community as usual (CAU) with programs mandated by court, parole officer, or child welfare caseworker. Data were collected at baseline, intervention completion (6-months), and 12-month post-intervention follow-up. Measures included demographic information, face-to-face parent interviews regarding discipline practices with their children, and reports of active cases with child welfare. Parent Daily Report (PDR) 5-minute phone interviews were also conducted; PDR used a 23-item checklist of child behaviors and a prompt requesting parent reaction to endorsed child misbehaviors.
Results. Zero-order correlations indicated strong stabilities for discipline (r=.46-.62, p<.001) and DHS involvement, (r=.38-.84, p<.001). Parents assigned to PMT had significantly lower unskilled discipline scores as compared to CAU parents at intervention completion (6-months), and PMT parents showed significant improvement in parental discipline from baseline to 6-months and baseline to follow-up. With PDR, CAU parents reported “giving up” more often, while PMT parents reported “giving up” less often, during child discipline encounters. Using a path model, both unskilled discipline and child welfare involvement maintained stability across the three assessment time points. While PMT improved discipline (p=.10) in the model context, the intervention did not significantly alter the odds of child welfare involvement at either 6- or 12-months. Model fit was adequate, X2 (df=15) =13.08, p=.60.
Implications. These results strengthen findings from experimental and passive studies (Cowan et al., 2009; Dishion et al., 2008) that suggest that high-risk parents may benefit from opportunities to participate in rigorous parenting programs. These findings also suggest that gains in parental discipline may be stable over time (18-months in the current study), a key practice implication for parent training programming with corrections- and child welfare system-involved families. Additional research is needed, however, to examine what additional supports—beyond parenting skills training—may be needed to ameliorate child maltreatment outcomes for high-risk families.