• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Tuesday 15th November, 2011

Incredible results for the Incredible Years

Incredible years, the evidence-based parent training program, has achieved a double score. It has already been proven to achieve considerable success in improving outcomes for children aged three to eight years old with challenging behaviors. New research reveals that the program also produces positive results with older at-risk children and their families. Even better, these results can be obtained by newly trained group leaders in actual front-line settings.A recently published study by Judy Hutchings and colleagues at Bangor University reveals that an adapted version of Incredible Years achieves reductions in child behavior problems and improvements in family functioning for older children aged eight to 13 years of age. The study examined a longer Incredible Years program that has been extended from 12 to 17 weeks to allow for time to deal with adult relationship issues and problem-solving skills, as well as the more deeply entrenched difficulties faced by older children with behavior problems.The program achieved a range of small to moderate reductions in children’s emotional and behavioral difficulties, as well as parental depression and negative parenting styles (effect sizes ranged from 0.1 to 0.6). However, perhaps the more striking finding is that these results were achieved by facilitators largely new to the program.Hutchings coordinated the leaders and mentors across six local authorities but was not part of the research team behind the Prevention and Early Intervention Project project (PEIP) which implemented and evaluated three evidence-based programs targeted at parents of high-risk children aged eight to 13. Incredible Years was one of the three programs and was delivered in six of the 18 participating local authorities.The leaders were mostly nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers only recently trained in the program. In addition to basic training, they received additional training specific to the target age group and regular supervision with a mentor/trainer. Very few evaluations are conducted in community settings where programs are delivered by existing staff as part of their day job. Even programs with the most robust evidence of effectiveness can struggle to achieve positive results when taken out of the hands of program developers and researchers, argue the researchers. That said, this latest study, reported in Child and Adolescent Mental Health, reveals that “staff in regular service settings, even when relatively inexperienced, can achieve good outcomes when supported with training, supervision and adequate time and resources”.It goes on to say: “One of the most impressive features of this study is the fact that these results were achieved by staff, many of whom were new to the programme. It is important to recognize the level of skill involved in engaging and retaining high-risk families in a group setting…they are to be congratulated for their commitment to, and support for, this project and for the achievements in this paper.” Overall, PEIP was successful at targeting at-risk families. For example, many of those participating in the study comprised of lone parents, from low income households and typically parents were five years younger than the national average at the birth of their first child. In addition, many of the parents or caregivers had left school by age 16, relied on state benefits and lived in council or privately rented accommodation. It is important to note that although the program had positive effects, many of the children remained within the clinical range for behavior problems. The report explains that this is likely due to the fact that the children are older, have longer established problems, and are likely influenced by those of the same age, along with school factors that are not directly targeted by this parent training focused program. It is likely that longer-term support is needed for these children and families, which in turn highlights the need for longer-term follow-up studies to measure whether improvements achieved are maintained. There is also another caveat: this study did not have a comparison or control group with which to compare the results. This omission reduces the level of confidence attributed to the effectiveness of the program. Nevertheless, the results remain promising. They suggest that Incredible Years works with older children even when implemented in real-world circumstances by inexperienced program leaders. ReferenceHutchings, T., Bywater, T., Williams, M.E., Whitaker, C., Lane, E. And Shakespeare, K. (2011). The extended school aged Incredible Years parent programme, Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 16, 3, p136-143.

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