Federal grant to UO will bring new parent-child intervention to Lane County

Elizabeth Skowron
Elizabeth Skowron, Counseling Psychology and Human Services

EUGENE, Ore. — (May 11, 2015) — A program already successful preventing new episodes of child abuse and neglect in families struggling with such issues will be launched early next year through the University of Oregon's College of Education thanks to a five-year, $3.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse awarded the grant, which began last month, to Elizabeth Skowron, a professor in the UO Department of Counseling Psychology and Human Services. It will fund a study on the use and implementation of Parent-Child Interaction Therapy among families in Lane County. Preparation work is underway.

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy is one of a few parenting programs with documented success among families who struggle with child maltreatment, Skowron said. Nationwide, she added, only a handful of parenting interventions are demonstrably effective in reducing repeat episodes of child maltreatment among parents involved with child protective services.

The grant (1R01DA036533-01A1) allows Skowron to extend her previous work that has shown abusive parents often experience high levels of physiological stress when they attempt to implement positive methods of parenting, leading them to resort to negative, aversive strategies.

Together with co-investigator Philip Fisher, a professor of psychology, she will investigate the neurobiological bases of change that occur as parents work to strengthen their parenting skills and change parent-child interaction patterns that lead to abuse. Both are also research scientists in the UO's Prevention Science Institute.

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy is an evidence-based parenting program, Skowron said. Its implementation should help empower parents who are involved with child protective services of the Oregon Department of Human Services in Lane County to make changes that lead to more nurturing, positive and secure relationships with their children. In so doing, she added, it should improve the parenting experience, effectively interrupting the intergenerational transmission of childhood maltreatment.

In this parenting program, parents wear a tiny earpiece while they play with their children in a clinical setting. On the other side of a one-way mirror sits a therapist who coaches a parent via a headset, providing positive feedback, support and guidance during playtime with his or her child.

Skowron theorizes that this real-time support of changing negative interaction patterns and improving the quality of the parent-child relationship, over time, may interrupt the negative physiological effects on parents that she unearthed in her previous studies. Previous research on the therapy has shown that it improves children’s behavior, and parents report feeling more confident and less stressed at the completion of the program. Parents report high levels of satisfaction with the program.

“In our experience working with families involved with child protective services, we find that the vast majority of parents care deeply about their children and want things to improve,” Skowron said. “But they feel at a loss for what to and how to change. Many themselves have often been exposed to maltreatment as children and are trying to cope with countless other stressors.”

Although the cost of delivering this program, which will be free to participating families, is more expensive than other existing programs, analyses conducted by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy show a return on investment of $5.93 for every dollar spent. The ratio closely matches that of other proven interventions developed at the UO College of Education, Skowron said.

The study’s ultimate goals are to provide parents with a cost-effective parenting program that reduces recidivism rates of childhood maltreatment and to gain a better understanding of how and why the intervention works so well.

Such insights gained from the work under the grant, Skowron said, should help tailor improved approaches that are based on the individual concerns and needs of families, and deliver resources more efficiently and effectively to more families in need.

Media Contact: Cody Pinkston, director of marketing, College of Education, 541-346-1392, cpinksto@uoregon.edu

Source: Elizabeth Skowron, associate professor of counseling psychology, 541-346-0913, eskowron@uoregon.edu

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