Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16521 An Experimental Evaluation of Parent Training, Unskilled Parenting, and Child Welfare Involvement for Adults In the Community Corrections System

Thursday, January 12, 2012: 5:00 PM
Constitution C (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Lew Bank, PhD, Senior Scientist, Oregon Social Learning Center, Portland, OR
Bowen McBeath, PhD, Associate Professor, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Shawna J. Lee, PhD, Assistant Professor, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Purpose. Research has demonstrated a strong relationship between unskilled parental discipline practices among at-risk families and negative outcomes such as child maltreatment and child welfare system involvement (Bank & Burraston, 2001; Greenwald et al., 1997). Little research, however, has examined whether parent training reduces the risk of child maltreatment by improving parental disciplinary behaviors (for exceptions, see Chamberlain et al., 2008; DeGarmo et al., 2009). We report the first experimental test of the relationship between participation in a structured parent management training (PMT) intervention, parental discipline, and child maltreatment risk for adults involved with the community corrections system. It was hypothesized that corrections-involved parents would benefit significantly from PMT, resulting in improved discipline skills and reduced child welfare involvement.

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.

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