Enhancing Foster Parent Training with Parent-Child Interaction Therapy: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment

, J., , C.E.,

Research indicates that foster parents often do not receive sufficient training and support to help them meet the demands of caring for foster children with emotional and behavioral disturbances. Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) is a clinically efficacious intervention for child externalizing problems, and it also has been shown to mitigate parenting stress and enhance parenting attitudes and behaviors. However, PCIT is seldom available to foster families, and it rarely has been tested under intervention conditions that are generalizable to community-based child welfare service contexts. To address this gap, PCIT was adapted and implemented in a field experiment using two novel approaches – group-based training and telephone consultation – both of which have the potential to be integrated into usual care.

This study analyzes 129 foster-parent-child dyads who were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: (a) waitlist control, (b) brief PCIT, and (c) extended PCIT. Self-report and observational data were gathered at multiple time points up to 14 weeks post baseline.

Findings from mixed-model, repeated measures analyses indicated that the brief and extended PCIT interventions were associated with a significant decrease in self-reported parenting stress. Results from mixed-effects generalized linear models showed that the interventions also led to significant improvements in observed indicators of positive and negative parenting. The brief course of PCIT was as efficacious as the extended PCIT intervention.

The findings suggest that usual training and support services can be improved upon by introducing foster parents to experiential, interactive PCIT training.

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