Abstract: Examining Early Childhood Development Among Children in Foster Care after Participation in the Strengthening Families Program (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

294P Examining Early Childhood Development Among Children in Foster Care after Participation in the Strengthening Families Program

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Kiley Liming, PhD, Associate Researcher, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Jody Brook, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Kaela Byers, PhD, Associate Research Professor, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
D. Crystal Coles, PhD, Assistant Professor, Morgan State University
Background/Purpose: Extensive research has demonstrated that children enter foster care (FC) with psychological trauma and that mental health is impacted throughout the child’s FC experience. To help develop and tailor interventions targeted at enhancing developmental well-being while in care, this study examined a child welfare parenting skill-building program to assess differences in development among children from baseline to program exit. Researchers examined if young children in FC, who participated in the Strengthening Families Program: Birth-to-Three (SFP-B-3), exhibited improvements in physical, cognitive, and social-emotional child developmental domains as measured by the Ages and Stages Questionnaire-Third Edition (ASQ-3) and the Ages and Stages Questionnaire: Social Emotional – Second Edition (ASQ-SE-2).

Methods: The sample included substance-affected children, 0-47 months old in FC with a case plan goal of reunification, who were randomly selected to receive SFP B-3. All children completed a 14-session parenting intervention over 16 weeks; children with data available at both timepoints (e.g., baseline and program exit) on the ASQ-3 (N=234) and ASQ-SE-2 (N=209) were eligible for inclusion. Paired t-tests analyses were utilized to determine if there were statistically significant mean differences between a child’s scores on each of the five ASQ-3 developmental domains (e.g., communication, gross motor, fine motor, problem solving, and personal-social) and the social-emotional domain, at program exit, compared to baseline. No significant differences were found between children who completed the intervention and those who dropped out.

Results: Children were primarily White (67%), non-Hispanic/Latino (80%) males (55%) with a mean age of 1.35 years (SD: 1.02) at program enrollment. Paired t-test results revealed a statistically significant improvement in four of the five developmental domains: communication (t(231)=2.92, p<.01), gross motor (t(231)=3.39, p<.001), fine motor (t(230)=2.71, p<.01), and problem solving (t(230)=3.15, p<.01), providing some preliminary evidence of improved outcomes. However, these findings are limited by the omission of a control group to rule out confounding factors such as natural child development and developmental changes resulting from parenting and environmental changes while in FC. Results for the personal-social scale of the ASQ-3 and overall social-emotional development (ASQ-SE-2) were non-significant.

Conclusion/Implications: Findings provide evidence of enhanced communication, gross and fine motor development, and problem-solving skills for young children in FC who participated in SFP-B-3. Though these results suggest the parenting skills learned in SFP-B-3 may help aid a child’s physical and cognitive development, it is not possible based on these results alone to attribute improvements to the SFP-B-3 program. Rather these findings suggest directions for future research to evaluate the effectiveness of parenting interventions on a child’s physical, cognitive, and social-emotional development, specifically for child welfare involved families with young children. Additionally, these findings may suggest the value of including an age-appropriate social-emotional component to the parenting skills intervention. For young children in FC, emotional cues and social expression may not be as apparent as an older child’s cues or expressions or cues may be blunted by experiences of maltreatment. Therefore, tailoring early childhood interventions to incorporate social-emotional components may have the benefit of improving both parenting skills and child developmental outcomes.