Australian parent help program reduces child abuse in the United States

The program, the 'Positive Parenting Program or "Triple P" trains nurses, social workers and others in the community to advise struggling parents.

The Triple P-Positive Parenting Program, which was developed by study co-investigator Dr. Matt Sanders from the University of Queensland, offers a system of strategies and tools which provide parents with multiple levels of parenting support, of increasing intensity, to match each family’s needs.

Triple T provides practical parenting strategies and information on dealing with a range of issues from tantrums to bedwetting and has been found to lower the rates of child abuse and also helped children avoid foster care.

The program offers a combination of training in a manner that spreads the skills taught throughout a community - it enables parents to access advice without embarrassment and also provides support.

Dr. Ron Prinz from the University of South Carolina, who led a study on the program says it is the first large-scale study to show that by providing all families and not just families in crisis, with access to parenting information and support, the rates of child maltreatment in whole communities can be reduced.

For the study the program was made available to all parents in 18 South Carolina counties with children from birth to 12 years throughout each community.

Dr.. Sanders says they capitalized on the existing workforces in the communities, expanded the range of workers and practitioners who could provide proven parenting support and publicized easy access to parenting support.

It was found over a two year period that proven cases of child abuse were reduced by 9%, foster care placements by 22% and hospitalizations or emergency-room visits by 14%.

Dr. Prinz says in a community with 100,000 children under age 8, the program could lead to 688 fewer maltreated children, 240 fewer out-of-home placements such as to foster care, and 60 fewer serious injuries.

Triple P is centered on five core principles: ensuring a safe, engaging environment; promoting a positive learning environment; using assertive discipline; maintaining reasonable expectations; and taking care of oneself as a parent - these principles are translated into practical parenting strategies for strengthening parent-child relationships, encouraging positive behavior, teaching new skills, managing misbehaviors and preventing problems in high-risk situations (such as shopping, mealtime, bedtime).

Dr. Prinz says that the same Triple P interventions for preventing child maltreatment also tackle children’s social, emotional and behavioral problems and promote positive development of young children entering school and has been shown to prevent or reduce these problems in children, freeing them from reliance on medications or other costly therapies.

As a result, says Dr. Prinz the impact on children and families has been positive and lowered the incidence of many costly social and health problems and implementing such a community-wide program does not have to be costly to be effective.

Dr. Prinz says children who have been abused are much more likely to have mental health problems later, are much more likely to get into trouble as teenagers and as adults are more unhappy in their lives and less productive in their work.

Dr. Prinz says the key indicators of child maltreatment, such as abuse injuries and foster placements, drop when parents community-wide are offered access to proven parenting interventions.

The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is published in the online edition of Prevention Science.

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