Child physical abuse and neglect are important public health problems and recent estimates of their prevalence suggest that they are considerably more common than had hitherto been realised. Many of the risk factors for child abuse and neglect are not amenable to change in the short term. Intervening to change parenting practices may, however, be important in its treatment. Parenting programmes are focused, short-term interventions aimed at improving parenting practices in addition to other outcomes ( many of which are risk factors for child abuse e. g. parental psychopathology, and parenting attitudes and practices), and may therefore be useful in the treatment of physically abusive or neglectful parents.
To assess the efficacy of group-based or one-to-one parenting programmes in addressing child physical abuse or neglect. Search strategy A range of biomedical and social science databases were searched including MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsychINFO, Sociofile, Social Science Citation Index, ASSIA, the Cochrane Library, Campbell Library (including SPECTR and CENTRAL), National Research Register (NRR) and ERIC, from inception to May 2005.
Only randomised controlled trials or randomised studies that compared two treatments were included. Studies had to include at least one standardised instrument measuring some aspect of abusive or neglectful parenting. In the absence of studies using objective assessments of child abuse, studies reporting proxy measures of abusive parenting were included. Only studies evaluating the effectiveness of standardised group-based or one-to-one parenting programmes aimed at the treatment of physical child abuse or neglect were included. Studies were also only eligible for inclusion if they had targeted parents of children aged 0-19 years who had been investigated for physical abuse or neglect.
Data collection and analysis
The treatment effect for each outcome in each study was standardised by dividing the mean difference in post-intervention scores for the intervention and treatment group by the pooled standard deviation, to obtain an effect size. The results for each outcome in each study have been presented, with 95% confidence intervals. It was not possible to combine any results in a meta-analysis.
A total of seven studies of variable quality were included in this review. Only two studies assessed the effectiveness of parenting programmes on the incidence of child abuse or number of injuries. One study showed that there were no reports of abuse in the intervention group compared with one report of abuse in the control group. In the second study the small number of injuries sustained precluded the possibility of statistical analysis. Data were also extracted on over fifty outcomes that are used as proxy measures of abusive parenting. These were on the whole diverse and measured a range of aspects of parenting (e.g. parental child management, discipline practices, child abuse potential and mental health), child health (e. g. emotional and behavioural adjustment) and family functioning, thereby precluding the possibility of undertaking a meta-analysis for most outcomes for which data were extracted. While none of the programmes were effective across all of the outcomes measured, many appeared to have improved some outcomes for some of the participating parents, although many failed to achieve statistical significance.
There is insufficient evidence to support the use of parenting programmes to treat physical abuse or neglect (i.e. such as the incidence of child abuse using reports of child abuse/injuries or children on the children protection register). There is, however, limited evidence to show that some parenting programmes may be effective in improving some outcomes that are associated with physically abusive parenting. There is an urgent need for further rigorous evaluation of the effectiveness of parenting programmes that are specifically designed to treat physical abuse and neglect, either independently or as rt of broader packages of care. Such evaluation should include the use of objective measures of outcome such as independent assessments of parenting and the number of instances of physical abuse. In order to do this, future studies need to include long-term follow-up.
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