Low-income families who participated in a brief, tailored intervention program designed to improve parenting saw less problem behavior in their toddlers than families who did not take part. That's the finding of a new study published in the September/October 2008 issue of the journal Child Development. The research was conducted at the University of Oregon, University of Pittsburgh, Case Western Reserve University, Oxford University, and the University of Virginia.
The researchers studied 731 families who took part in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program in three geographically and culturally diverse U.S. communities. Half the families were randomly assigned to participate in an intervention called the Family Check-Up--a brief, motivational program that identified and encouraged positive parenting practices--and half received services as usual. The Family Check Up is adapted and tailored to fit the individual circumstances of low-income families; in addition, it is less expensive than more traditional parenting interventions. The services a parent receives are based on the results of family assessments; they focus on encouraging change only in parenting practices that are found to be problematic or likely to lead to future adjustment problems in the young children.
Families were videotaped interacting with their children at ages 2 and 3, and they filled out questionnaires about their children's problem behaviors at ages 2, 3, and 4. In this way, the researchers assessed parents' use of positive behavior support practices, including proactive parenting (such as when parents anticipate problem behavior and intercede to prevent it) and positive reinforcement, as well as the amount of involvement and interaction time between parents and children.
Parents who were randomly assigned to the Family Check-Up intervention reported less problem behavior in their 2- to 4-year-old children; moreover, the researchers saw them supporting positive behavior in their young children more than parents who had not taken part in the program. Families with the highest-risk toddlers were found to be the most responsive to the Family Check-Up program.
"These findings replicate and extend previous research on family-centered interventions in general and the Family Check-Up in particular for improving problem behavior from childhood through adolescence," according to Thomas J. Dishion, professor of psychology and school psychology and director of the Child and Family Center at the University of Oregon, who led the study. "They suggest the value of making empirically supported family interventions part of existing service delivery systems that involve low-income children and families as a public health strategy. By using this strategy as part of a health-maintenance model, long-term improvements in young children's social and emotional adjustment can be achieved."