Academic journal article Family Relations

The Role of Parent Training with Abusive and Neglectful Parents

Academic journal article Family Relations

The Role of Parent Training with Abusive and Neglectful Parents

Article excerpt

As the number of child abuse and neglect reports has soared over the past two decades, family clinicians and researchers have increasingly implemented and evaluated parent training programs designed to insure capable parenting. Referral to a parenting program is common when parents are found to be maltreating their children. Yet, what is the empirical evidence to suggest these programs are effective in changing parent behavior? This paper reviews the current research on the effectiveness of parent training programs aimed at parents at high risk for child maltreatment. It summarizes this literature and draws implications for designing more effective programs to meet the needs of this difficult-to-reach group.

Key Words: child maltreatment, high-risk families, parent training, parenting, parenting education.

Martha Morrison Dore* and Judy M. Lee

As our knowledge of the factors that contribute to good parenting has increased along with our understanding of the effects of poor parenting on outcomes for children, many interventions have been developed that build on this knowledge. Some interventions try to change poor parenting practices into good, or at least better ones. Others aim to prevent poor parenting in the first place. While the former are most often targeted at parents with a specific problem (for example. parenting a child with special emotional or physical needs) or type of behavior (harsh, punitive, abusive, or neglectful parenting) the latter interventions are often open to all parents, irrespective of their parenting capacities. Some authors have differentiated between these two forms of parent training by designating the latter parenting education (Barclay & Houts, 1990). Others limit the term parent training to intervention models based on concepts of behaviorism and principles of social learning theory (Briesmeister & Schaefer, 1998). However, most often the terms parenting education and parent training are used interchangeably to denote a wide range of intervention models designed to enhance parents, capacities to foster optimal child development.

Using training techniques to enhance parental functioning and thereby ensure better outcomes for children is a therapeutic approach that has developed markedly over the past several decades. The exponential growth of this approach has been influenced by several factors. One is clearly the development of behavior therapy that lends itself well to a training approach. Another is the deinstitutionalization movement that has returned children and youth with serious emotional and behavior problems to the care of their families and communities, leaving many families desperately searching for new ways to manage difficult children. A third factor is widespread concern over teen parenting, as adolescent parents are often found to lack the skills required for adequate parenting. A fourth factor is the growing body of research in child development and developmental psychopathology focused on early parent-child attachment and its implications for future child functioning. And most important for our purposes here, the final factor is the alarming increase over the past two decades in cases of child abuse and neglect, coupled with the current policy focus on family preservation and prevention of out-ofhome care for children. A common response to an adjudicated case of child maltreatment is court referral to a parent training program. Yet, what empirical evidence is there that such programs can actually change the parenting behaviors that constitute child maltreatment?

In this article, we briefly summarize the literature on the effectiveness of parenting programs aimed at abusive and neglectful parents published prior to 1990. We then examine studies of such parenting programs published during the present decade. We hope to discern: (a) whether current parent training programs build on findings of earlier studies; (b) whether the outcome research on parenting programs has become more methodologically rigorous than in times past; and (c) whether there are training models that have been empirically proven to be effective in enhancing parenting skills in abusive and neglectful families. …

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