Program Goals/Target Population
The goal of the Adults and Children Together (ACT) Raising Safe Kids Program is to strengthen families and improve or change parenting skills and practices to prevent child maltreatment. The program provides education and resources and seeks to achieve the primary goal by (1) establishing partnerships with a variety of organizations and agencies, and (2) training professionals to take the program to families and caregivers in their communities.
ACT emphasizes the important role that parents and other adults have in creating safe, nurturing, stable, and healthy environments for young children that help protect them from violence and trauma, and their consequences. The program also promotes community support and serves as a complement to existing interventions for children at high risk for maltreatment. The program is designed to be a universal approach to help groups of parents and caregivers from all backgrounds regardless of their risk level. It is also designed to be flexible so that a variety of community-based institutions and organizations can implement the program and integrate it into existing interventions and services for parents.
ACT is currently implemented in almost 100 communities in the United States and Puerto Rico, including Latino and Asian-American communities, and in Brazil, Colombia, Greece, Japan, and Peru.
The ACT Raising Safe Kids Program is based on research indicating that in the early years, violence, abuse, and neglect are mostly perpetrated by children’s own parents (Children’s Bureau 2010). Studies have also demonstrated that exposure to abuse and neglect early in life has long-term and serious emotional, cognitive, and behavioral trauma and consequences for children and youth. Therefore, ACT was designed to focus on the early years and the important role of parents and caregivers in shaping children’s early environment and experiences. In addition, it is based on the notion that lack of knowledge about child development and inadequate parenting skills are the primary causes of child maltreatment (Portwood, et al. 2011). Abusive parents often have inappropriate expectations about their child’s behavior and tend to react inappropriately. They are more likely to use harsh physical discipline and verbal aggression and less likely to use positive parenting strategies (Guttman, Mowder, and Yasik 2006). The framework for ACT is also informed by research related to violence prevention that shows that violence is the result of an individual’s lack of problem-solving skills to deal with conflict and can negatively affect the problem-solving abilities of children exposed to violence (Guttman, Mowder, and Yasik 2006). ACT seeks to teach caregivers how to model developmentally appropriate, non-violent social and problem-solving skills to children.
ACT is based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Best Practices of Youth Violence Prevention, which include social-cognitive interventions like didactic instruction, modeling, and role-playing. The CDC also suggests parent- and family-based interventions, which is why ACT was revised to address family violence and child abuse (Thorton, et al. 2002). The program is also grounded in components of social learning theory (Bandura 1973), proposing that children observe and imitate the adults in their lives. As such, parents participating in ACT are taught how to manage their anger in order to model appropriate behavior and conflict-resolution techniques for their children.
The ACT Program is delivered to groups of parents and caregivers by trained professionals (ACT Facilitators) with support from other organizations. The American Psychological Association (APA) established partnerships with institutions in the United States to create the ACT Regional Training Centers in various regions of the country (please see Implementation Information for additional information).
The ACT curriculum is organized in eight 2-hour interactive group sessions and addresses:
- Understanding Children’s Behaviors: This component focuses on helping parents understand what to expect from children at various development stages and how to use skills to guide children’s behavior based on their developmental level, so that parents do not have unrealistic expectations of their children and do not resort to violence when dealing with misbehaviors.
- Young Children’s Exposure to Violence: The purpose of this session is to help parents understand (1) how children can be exposed to violence and its consequences; (2) that children learn by observation and imitation; and (3) that their behavior, actions and the environment they provide teach children lessons for life.
- Anger Management for Parents: This session is designed to help parents learn skills to understand, control, and manage their own feelings of anger.
- Understanding and Helping Angry Children: This session helps parents understand children’s angry feelings and how to teach them positive ways to express and control anger. The session also covers helping families teach social problem-solving skills in a home environment based on an understanding of the developmental stages through which children learn social skills.
- Children and Electronic Media: This part of the program emphasizes the relationship between time spent on screen and unhealthy behaviors, and between exposure to violent messages and images and aggressive behaviors so that adults can reduce the impact on their children.
- Discipline and Parenting Style: This session helps parents understand that their parenting styles have an impact on children’s behaviors. Distinctions are also made between punishment and discipline so that parents can respond effectively.
- Discipline for Positive Behaviors: This session teaches parents how to prevent challenging behaviors and how to use positive methods to discipline their children.
- Take the ACT Program with You: The final session encourages participants to use the learned tools at home and in the community.
APA Violence Prevention Office staff coordinates the program including development of training and educational materials, and technical assistance to the ACT Regional Centers and program sites through e-mails and conference calls, organization of the annual leadership seminar and web-based seminars, and coordination of the program listserv. Organizations that host the program include community-based social service and mental health providers, hospitals, churches, childcare centers, prisons, and schools. Professionals conducting the program’s 8-week series in the communities include psychologists, early childhood professionals, social workers, social service agency staff, and nurses.
25 to 45
Portwood and colleagues (2011) found that parents participating in the Adults and Children Together (ACT) Raising Safe Kids Program reported statistically significant declines in harsh discipline as measured by the Parent Behavior Checklist (PBC) from the pretest to 3-month follow-up. Parents in the comparison group reported slight declines during this time, but the declines were not statistically significant. The difference between the groups was also statistically significant.
For the PBC Nurturing measure, parents in the ACT group reported a statistically significant increase from the pretest to the follow-up. The comparison group increased from the pretest to posttest and decreased slightly at the 3-month follow-up, but the changes were not statistically significant. The overall differences between the groups were also not statistically significant.
For the PBC Expectations measure, there were no significant changes over time and there were no overall differences between the groups.
Parents in the ACT group reported a statistically significant increase from the pretest to the 3-month follow-up on parent stress as measured by the Parenting Stress Index (PSI). Parent stress in the comparison group remained constant from the pretest to the posttest and increased slightly at the follow-up, but the increase was not statistically significant. The overall differences between the groups were also not statistically significant.