• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Wednesday 30th May, 2012

Consistent parenting: the “active ingredient” in youth violence prevention

As the roster of evidence-based interventions grows, increasing attention is being paid to why they work. What are the “active ingredients” of an intervention? What elements work well together?In a US violence prevention program for middle school students, the “active ingredients” were positive, consistent parental discipline practices and family cohesion, a new study finds. A family-focused intervention with high-risk students helped to change parenting approaches, which in turn had a modest effect on middle schoolers’ behavior. These are the findings of a new investigation into the mediators of effects of the Multisite Violence Prevention Project (MVPP), according to a large group of authors from several US government agencies and universities. Measuring mediatorsThe logic of an intervention design such as MVPP typically focuses on characteristics, experiences, or contexts that increase or decrease the likelihood of healthy development. These protective and risk factors are targeted by intervention efforts in the expectation that they will, in turn, have an effect on children’s outcomes. So what are the targets of interventions that seek to reduce aggression and violence in childhood and adolescence? Poor parental monitoring and coercive parenting are natural targets. They often produce an environment in which poor child behavior flourishes, as psychologists at the Oregon Social Learning Centre, including Gerry Patterson and Thomas Dishion, have shown. The Multisite Violence Prevention Project sought to put the parenting mediators to the test. MVPP tested an intervention – the GREAT Schools and Families program – that seeks to reduce childhood aggression and increase the value placed upon school and academic success. MVPP researchers wanted to know not only if the intervention was effective, but if the hypothesized “active ingredients” of the intervention, including a focus on parental discipline skills, were responsible for any improvement in child outcomes. On test: the GREAT Schools and Families programDuring the 15-week GREAT Schools and Families program, groups of four to eight children and their parents and guardians meet once a week with psychologists and social workers. Some sessions stress consistency of family rules and clarity of family organization. Other sessions encourage increased parent involvement in their child’s education, in part through improved relationships between parents and school personnel. The evaluation of the intervention was a multi-site trial involving the random allocation of 37 schools from the US states of Illinois, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. More than 1,000 children were allocated to either an intervention or control condition, while a targeted intervention identified the children in each school who were most aggressive and socially influential. The logic was that changes in these aggressive leaders would reduce aggression in the general school population. Interestingly, the intervention had only a modest impact on aggression and commitment to school – at least when all the children allocated to the targeted intervention were considered. However, of those families allocated to the selective intervention, only 45% attended at least one session. “If family interventions are only reaching half of a high-risk population,” the authors note, “the impact overall may not be enough to affect prevalence sufficiently to warrant implementation at scale.”Perhaps as a result of the high non-participation rate, the analysis investigating the “active ingredients” was more illuminating than the analysis of the overall direct effects. Key determinants of improvements in child outcomes appear to be improvements in parents’ reliance on positive discipline practices such as consistency, reinforcing positive behavior, and consequences for misbehavior.The authors argue that “the results support the notion that changing parenting practices and the quality of family relationships can prevent the escalation in aggression and maintain positive school engagement for high-risk youth.” ********References:The Multisite Violence Prevention Project. (2012). Mediators of Effects of a Selective Family-Focused Violence Prevention Approach for Middle School Students. Prevention Science, 13, 1-14. LinksPicking out the active ingredients

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