Can Parenting Classes Help End the Child-Abuse Epidemic?

by ParentCo. March 14, 2016

The National Children's Alliance offers sobering and tragic statistics: in 2013, nearly 700,000 children were abused or neglected. Children who grow up in abusive and neglectful environments are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and obesity as adults. They're also at higher risk of teen pregnancy, drug addiction, and dropping out of school. The estimated cost of each case of abuse -- that is, each person reeling from a traumatic childhood -- is estimated at $1.8 million over the course of a lifetime. Addressing our pervasive child abuse epidemic requires a complicated system of prevention, intervention, and consequence. An article published by The Atlantic explores the impact of a parenting program called Triple P, intended to train and educate parents who are at risk for, or have been suspected of, abusing. The article's author, Olga Khazan, writes, "Triple P is a prominent player in a little-explored corner of the healthcare realm: Programs that aim to teach parents how to be parents." She goes on to explain the evolution of programs like Triple P,

Classes like Triple P have proliferated in recent decades, and now, more than a dozen programs strive to curb child abuse through good parenting. Many of these programs target frustrated or isolated parents who haven’t laid a finger on their kids. But others are geared toward parents who are already suspected of abuse, as well as those who are “at risk” of abusing. Social workers would rather keep kids with their parents if it’s reasonably safe to do so. If a mildly abusive parent can be reformed, his child is less likely to enter foster care.

Khazan continues,

The driving philosophy is that parenting is not necessarily intuitive. You have to pass a test to drive a car or represent someone before a judge, but not to do something as important as raising a child.

Most of these programs are supported by evidence indicating that they work to decrease abuse, at least to an extent. But there are critics who claim the positive results of Triple P are difficult to replicate. This may be due in part to conflicts of interest among the publishers of the course materials and the researchers evaluating the efficacy of the program. It may also be due to the difficulty of translating one program -- Triple P operates in 25 countries -- across cultures and languages. Maybe, as Khazan posits, the issue is that we expect too much when, really, there's only so much a program like Triple P can do,

In conversations with prosecutors and social workers around the country, I heard repeatedly that child abuse was closely linked to drug use. And several studies have found that, while most children are abused by someone they live with, the perpetrator is often an unrelated adult, not the parent. ... Abusive families’ troubles might run deeper than Triple P can penetrate.

Khazan goes on,

If parents are finding Triple P’s tips useful, it would be foolish to discount it just because it hasn’t singlehandedly solved child abuse. But parents would be better able to cheerfully soldier on through whining and tantrums—as Triple P expects them to—if they had affordable childcare, good housing, and enough money for food.

Indeed. Perhaps it's best to consider that programs like Triple P are a bit of a bandaid hastily applied for lack of a tourniquet. It's a superficial solution intended to teach parents how to parent regardless of their circumstances when, in fact, the circumstances are the issue.
Source: The Atlantic, Welcome to Parent College, Can parenting classes help end America’s disgraceful child-abuse epidemic? (March 14, 2016)



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