Home-based intervention lowers risk of foster-care separations

UW Nursing-developed program teaches caregivers to respond better to children’s emotional needs

By Staishy B. Siem  |  School of Nursing  |  Updated 3:15 PM, 10.11.2016

Posted in: Research

  • The intervention teaches caregivers of young children learn to recognize, understand and respond to children’s social emotional needs. ThinkStock

Families being investigated for child maltreatment who received a 10-week home-visit program were less likely to have their children placed in foster care than families who received phone-based interventions, according to a new study from the University of Washington.

Findings by School of Nursing researchers appear in the November edition of Child Maltreatment.

“This study demonstrates that promoting infant mental health-focused services to vulnerable families in the child-welfare system can have a lasting impact on parent and child wellbeing, and on the system,” said Monica Oxford, the study’s principal investigator. 

Monica Oxford
Monica Oxford, UW professor of family and child nursing, led the research.
picture of Monica Oxford

“It was exciting to see that families were able to remain intact and become stronger as a result of this program,” she said.

The study included 247 families with 10- to 24-month-old children in Snohomish, Skagit and King counties in Washington. All families had a recent, open child-protective services investigation of maltreatment. Families were randomly assigned to either the program of 10 one-hour home visits or the telephone-based resource and referral service consisting of a needs assessment, service referrals and mailed information packets. 

Therapists from the YWCA of Snohomish County were trained and delivered the intervention, called “Promoting First Relationships,” which involves strategies to teach caregivers of young children to recognize, understand and respond to children’s social and emotional needs. The intervention was developed in 1998 by Jean Kelly, UW nursing professor emeritus, and colleagues.

“The program had a strong, positive effect on these families. Not only did far fewer children end up in foster care, we observed that parents became more sensitive and responsive to their children’s cues and needs,” said Oxford, a UW professor of family and child nursing and interim director of the Barnard Center for Infant Mental Health and Development.

Previous studies have connected early life adversities, including maltreatment, with an increased risk of chronic conditions in adulthood, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, arthritis, asthma and heart disease. Adults who experienced adverse events in childhood also have a greater incidence of mental health disorders, homelessness, experience more lost time from work and have lower academic achievement.

This study was funded by (awards R01HD061362 and U54HD083091) the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health, and conducted in partnership with Washington’s Children’s Administration and the YWCA in Everett.

Tagged with: child welfare, maltreatment, children
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