Neglect and abuse of children remain a prevalent social issue in the United States. Parent engagement is essential for improving family functioning in a meaningful way (Ingram et al., 2015). Nevertheless, political rhetoric surrounding the issue often concentrates on producing a “heroic social worker” and does not focus that much on parent training (Warner, 2015, p. 79). An evidenced-based intervention aiming at consistent parent training and based on the Teaching Family Model (TMF) would improve family functioning and help children of neglect.
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Neglect and abuse affect a considerable percentage of children growing up in the United States. Between 2005 and 2015, there have been more than two million reports of child maltreatment nationwide, thus amounting to hundreds of thousands of reported cases yearly (Ingram et al., 2015). Preventing child abuse and neglect is generally preferable to dealing with the consequences after the fact, by the efficient use of this approach requires corresponding measures to be taken.
Social services provided separately from the family only have limited impact, and “families must be engaged as partners in the intervention in order for services to have the biggest impact” (Ingram et al., 2015, p. 139). Hence, to improve the outcomes for children of neglect and decrease the risks of neglect and abuse, it is necessary to work closely with the families for parent engagement and address family issues. This approach should involve parent-training programs aimed at eliminating the risk of neglect and abuse in a given family.
The implementation of such measures to aid the target population is bound to face considerable barriers. First of all, parent training programs designed to prevent child neglect and, by extension, improve the children’s circumstances require parental cooperation and will not succeed in the case of uncooperative families. Secondly, evidence-based interventions and programs in the field of social services targeting children of neglect are relatively scarce (Ingram et al., 2015).
This tendency persists due to the limited federal funding for child welfare research in the United States (Ingram et al., 2015). Thus, when implementing TFM to improve family functioning and aid the children of neglect, one should be prepared to face such barriers as uncooperative parents and insufficient financing alike and operate with limited resources.
In the absence of consistent and comprehensive interventions designed to promote child welfare by improving family functioning, the perspective of the children of neglect looks dim. Neglect is the most widely spread form of child maltreatment, and parents are the perpetrators in eighty percent of all cases (National Children’s Alliance, 2015). Considering these numbers, it is certain that the problem of child neglect, if left unaddressed, will only deteriorate with the passing of time.
TFM is an approach to parent training that demonstrated its efficiency over several decades. Originally developed in the 1970s, TFM combines social learning theory and other broadly accepted theoretical models (Ingram et al., 2015). This model provides in-home family services based on such crucial components as brief but high-intensity in-home services, 24/7 caseworker availability, and small caseloads as well as skill-building with families (Ingram et al., 2015). An example of successful practical implementation of evidence-based intervention using the principles of TFM is Boys Town – a child welfare treatment provider active in eleven states and DC.
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The etiology of the problem likely lies in the combination of two factors: insufficient parenting skills and a high level of different stressors. Lack of relevant skills may cause parents to use inconsistent and harsh discipline that may be conducive to neglect and abuse (Ingram et al., 2015). Higher levels of stress are also a likely cause of maltreatment, which is why it is essential to incorporate such families in formal and informal support networks to improve their functioning (Ingram et al., 2015). While these observations on the etiology of the problem are mere speculations, they still have a basis in contemporary scholarly literature.
The introduction of parent training program based on the principles of TFM will improve family functioning and promote child welfare by reducing the risks of neglect.
US Children’s Bureau
The Children’s Bureau is the US government agency primarily responsible for child welfare in the country. It partners with federal, state, local, and tribal agencies in order to promote and secure the well-being of families, in general, and children, in particular (Children’s Bureau, 2019). According to the Bureau, its main objectives are strengthening families, protecting children from neglect and abuse, and ensuring that every child has a permanent family or family connection (Children’s Bureau, 2019). The focus on the preservation of families and the improvement of family functioning is evident.
However, the list of projects supported by the Bureau does not address parenting skills within the families directly. Such components as “Offering training and technical assistance to improve child welfare service delivery” and “Sharing research to help child welfare professionals improve their services” aim at social workers rather than families themselves (Children’s Bureau, 2019). This approach puts the Bureau dangerously close to the above-mentioned rhetoric of “heroic social worker” that stresses superior skills of a welfare service provider and all but ignores the necessity of parent training (Warner, 2015, p. 79).
To summarize, the Bureau does not exclude parent training as a component of its efforts but does not elaborate on any of its aspects either. The role of a social worker is, thus, reduced to an individual service provider rather than an agent of change in a family context.
Readiness for Change
The existing system seems ready for change because it already recognizes that the focus of family functioning is essential to promote child welfare and prevent neglect. As mentioned above, the Bureau’s objectives are already formulated as strengthening families, protecting children from neglect and abuse, and ensuring that every child has a permanent family or family connection (Children’s Bureau, 2019).
Hence, the system is ready for change, as the intervention proposed directly addresses the objectives set. Available resources include organizational (the existing network of child welfare service providers), intellectual (the evidence-based intervention for parent training using the principles of TFM), and financial (up to $8 billion distributed by the Bureau annually). The anticipated response should not be negative, as the proposed intervention lines up perfectly with the Bureau’s objectives and, due to the broad range of theories incorporated into TFM, will be a relatively comfortable adjustment for many practitioners.
Strategies and Tactics
Implementing the proposed intervention will require using multiple service delivery methods in the parent-training programs. These methods will be based on the experience of Boys Town in the implementation of programs based n TFM and include “individual clinic- and classroom-based, small group, or in-home services” (Ingram et al., 2015, p 142). Parent training and management programs have demonstrated a consistently positive effect in mitigating and preventing neglect and abuse but are not studies and used widely as of yet (Ingram et al., 2015). Therefore, the change brought by the intervention will be transformative because it will employ an evidence-based approach that has proven its efficiency on a broader scale than before for the increased positive effect on family functioning.
To measure the progress achieved, this intervention will use the following goals:
- Stress level reduction within families
- Development of positive interactions between parents and children
- Supervising children according to their developmental needs
The rate of success in achieving these goals will be assessed via the following objectives:
- Ensuring families remain intact
- Ensuing the families’ basic needs are met
- Ensuring children attend schools
One significant limitation of this plan is that, for all their effectiveness in a number of given cases, built on the principles of TFM are not widely used in child welfare. It was mentioned above that, due to the broad range of theories incorporated into TFM, practitioners would find the intervention compatible with their approaches, but theoretical acceptance and practical application are not the same things.
Additionally, and more importantly, child welfare social workers often have minimal clinical skills as well as high turnover rates (Ingram et al., 2015). These factors will complicate the training of service providers in sufficient numbers and with sufficient competencies for the intervention to have the desired effect. Thus, the limitations of the workforce and the complexity of the practical implementation of the previously unfamiliar evidence-based intervention will be the major limitations of this plan. Its main strength lies in its potential to improve family functioning and reduce the risks of neglect.
Children’s Bureau (2019). What we do. Web.
Ingram, S. D., Cash, S. J., Oats, R. G., Simpson, A., & Thompson, R. W. (2015). Development of an evidence-informed in-home family services model for families and children at risk of abuse and neglect. Child and Family Social Work, 20, 139–148.
National Children’s Alliance (2015). National statistics on child abuse. Web.
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Wagner, J. (2015). The emotional politics of social work and child protection. Policy Press. Web.