APA has helped to secure a federal grant where independent investigators will evaluate its Adults and Children Together (ACT) Against Violence parenting program—a move that should give the program a more sound scientific base and enhance its national visibility, says Julia Silva, who directs the APA Violence Prevention Office, which oversees the program.
APA and the National Association for the Education of Young Children launched the ACT program in 2000 as a research-based, primary-prevention intervention that seeks to promote positive parenting and curb child maltreatment. It originally included a media-campaign component, no longer in effect, and a curriculum with modules for families and teachers of young children that offered facilitators a good deal of flexibility in delivering treatment.
The family component—now called Parents Raising Safe Kids—was revised in 2005 and now includes a version geared to the Latino community. It is now in effect in 36 communities in 19 states and includes a curriculum offered in eight two-hour sessions for parents and other caregivers, delivered by professionals in a variety of settings.
"We've come a long way in the development of this program, and we're proud of the results," Silva says.
In a fun, nonjudgmental and interactive way, facilitators help parents learn basic parenting skills, how to deal with their own and their child's anger, how children's developmental stages influence their behavior, how to use positive discipline strategies, and how to reduce the impact of media violence on children. It is conceived of as a basic, universal parenting program that can serve as a gateway to more intensive interventions, says University of North Carolina at Charlotte professor Sharon G. Portwood, JD, PhD, principal investigator of the program outcome evaluation project funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While many ACT sites have conducted self-assessments, this is the first national outcome study on the program, Silva says.
The evaluation will take place at three ACT sites: one in the Chicago area, one in Newport News, Va., and the third in Milwaukee. The study will compare 125 parents who have participated in the ACT parenting program and 125 parents who haven't yet been in the training but are involved in other parent-related programs, such as Head Start and day care. Evaluators will compare how the groups rate on four measures: Positive parenting skills, conflict management skills, use of support networks and stress.
"The evaluation is another step in pressing ourselves to do better," says Chicago-area psychologist John W. Shustitzky, PhD, an APA member and president and chief executive officer of the Chicago-area evaluation site, Pillars.
He incorporated the program into his social-services agency because "it was a natural fit with our existing mission of not only providing services but empowering parents and child-care providers to work more effectively with children." His is one of five regional ACT training sites.
In other ACT-related activities, Silva is working with New Jersey psychologist Milton Fuentes, PsyD, to create a manual that will tailor principles of motivational interviewing for the ACT parent program coordinators. Motivational interviewing, developed by psychologists William R. Miller, PhD, and Stephen Rollnick, PhD, is an increasingly popular counseling technique originally developed to help clients with substance abuse problems think differently about and take ownership of their behaviors and ultimately to consider what might be gained by changing them. The new manual is the first effort to apply this technique to violence prevention in a group setting with the aim of increasing people's participation and commitment to change behaviors, Silva notes.
Meanwhile, ACT is starting to have an international presence as well. ACT Evaluation Advisory Board member Tasha Howe, PhD, for instance, recently held the first ACT training for social-service workers in Cyprus and made presentations for psychologists in Greece. The program is also being implemented in Canada and Puerto Rico.
In related activities, the violence prevention office is working with the American Academy of Pediatrics to develop an initiative that would integrate behavioral health into primary-care settings to help prevent child maltreatment and youth violence.
"This is a vital effort where psychologists and pediatricians will be working together to address an important public health problem," Silva says.
Tori DeAngelis is a writer in Syracuse, N.Y.