A successful APA program that has been proven to reduce child abuse is now going international. APA's Parents Raising Safe Kids program, known as ACT, has expanded to 78 communities in 18 states and now has programs in Colombia, Brazil, Greece, Japan and Peru, by international members of APA. ACT leaders are hoping to expand to China in the next few years.

ACT started in the United States in 2001 as a way to reduce violence against children by giving parents better tools — emotionally and practically — to deal with common parenting issues. Research has shown that ACT improves parents' anger management and prosocial problem-solving, as well as reducing physical punishment (Journal of Primary Prevention, 2011).

For Nahoko Nishizawa, PsyD, who was part of the team that launched the first Japanese version of ACT in Yokohama, part of the program's effectiveness lies in the fact that it helps parents think deeply about their own childhoods to change how they interact with their children.

"Many of the programs in Japan don't address a person's emotions or what they carry from their own childhood," says Nishizawa. "[The parents] realize how important that is, to process your own experiences and the effect of your own parenting. It's very powerful."

Nishizawa, who is a faculty member at the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University, says that the preliminary feedback she's gotten from the parents on the first pilot program launched in Yokohama has been overwhelmingly positive. The first official program began in August 2013.

That enthusiasm may be due to the fact that the ACT program is universal and relevant to parents across the globe, says APA's Julia da Silva, who spearheaded the U.S. ACT program and the international expansion. "The program is for every parent. In more poor countries, parents don't have the resources we have here, or the legislation, the public programs. They're more isolated. So, they are grabbing ACT as an opportunity to be part of something, to connect, and learn to be better parents."

In the United States, the program has five regional centers that each year train a total of 2,500 professionals to be ACT facilitators. These facilitators then take the research-based program curriculum back to their communities to teach parents the evidence-based ACT methods in two-hour sessions over eight weeks.

One benefit of the program is its affordability. The training materials cost $90, which includes facilitator training manuals and the materials for parents.

The program works in much the same way in the other countries, says da Silva. Professionals from other countries who wish to become ACT-certified typically come to the United States for ACT training. Occasionally, she and her colleagues have traveled to train facilitators in their home countries, as was the case in da Silva's home country, Brazil.

ACT may be tailored to fit the conventions and norms of each country, says da Silva. In Greece, for example, it is often too taxing financially for facilitators to travel for ACT training in the United States. So, Pantelis Proios, a mental health professional who runs Greece's ACT program, traveled with two other ACT experts to train would-be facilitators in schools and community centers nationwide. The program has thrived in Greece, Proios says, adding that the program is flexible enough to be used with the parents of kids of any age. "So far it's worked very well," he says. "We're very optimistic."

More recently, APA has established a partnership with a child abuse prevention organization in San Francisco interested in translating and adapting the program for Chinese-American parents in the Bay Area. Evaluation results of this pilot program will guide a future plan to expand the program to China.

Meanwhile, says da Silva, the parents' stories of growth — and of how their children are flourishing — are offering happy endings every day, both internationally and nationally. Recently, she met a father from Fairfax, Va., whose wife had taken part in the program, whose gratitude for ACT brought tears to da Silva's eyes. "He said to me, ‘I came from an abused family and didn't want to do this cycle anymore. So did my wife, but she didn't know any other way. I tried to change her for all the years we've been married. But ACT did something I couldn't, and she changed. Thank you so much for this.'"

Alice G. Walton, PhD, is a writer in New York City.

More information

If you're interested in starting an ACT program in your community or country, contact ACT director Julia da Silva.