Program Goals/Target Population
Project Support addresses the issues that family violence causes for children of abused mothers and children who have been maltreated. Since these children are at a high risk for conduct problems, the objective of the program is to reduce conduct problems in these children, reduce harsh parenting, and improve the mother’s relationship with her children. The program also aims to provide support for battered mothers during their transition away from an abusive partner.
The program is targeted at families (mothers and children) who have sought refuge at a domestic violence shelter. To receive services through the program, at least one child between the ages of 4 and 9 must exhibit clinical levels of conduct problems, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and the mother must be trying to establish a household separate from the violent partner.
The intervention comprises two main components: 1) providing emotional support to the mother and 2) teaching her child management and nurturing strategies to reduce misconduct in her child. The program addresses the first component by helping mothers obtain physical resources and social support to help them become self-sufficient, and by offering training in decision making and problem solving. The second component involves teaching the mother positive ways to respond to behavior problems, communication skills, and ways to facilitate a positive relationship with her child.
Therapists visit the families in their home weekly to provide hour-long sessions, for 6 to 8 months after departure from the domestic violence shelter. A trained student mentor interacts with the child while the mother is in therapy. The program is tailored to meet each family’s individual needs.
Therapists provide therapy to mothers and their children; mentors work with children while the mother meets individually with the therapist; and trained research staff assist with program implementation.
4 to 9
Children’s Conduct Problems/Externalizing Problems
At the 24-month follow-up, McDonald and colleagues (2006) found that children in the Project Support group were less likely to exhibit clinical levels of conduct problems compared to children in the comparison group. Fifteen percent of children involved in the treatment group exhibited clinical levels of conduct problems, compared to 53 percent of those in the comparison group.
Children’s Happiness/Internalizing Problems
According to mothers’ reports, children in the Project Support group were happier and had better social relationships compared to children in the comparison group. The mean score for the Children’s Happiness/Social Relationships Scale was 3.9 for the treatment group, compared to a mean score of 3.5 for the comparison group. This difference was found to be statistically significant.
Further, the mothers’ reports indicated that children in the Project Support group had lower levels of internalizing problems compared to children in the comparison group. While mean levels of internalizing problems did not differ between the treatment and comparison groups, there was a difference between the groups in the percentage that exhibited clinical levels of internalizing problems. Zero percent of children in the treatment group showed clinical levels of internalizing problems, while 35 percent of children in the control group that showed clinical levels of internalizing problems.
Maternal Aggression toward Children
Mothers in the Project Support group were less likely to use aggressive child-management strategies; they also reported improvement in parenting skills. Of the mothers in the treatment group, 31 percent reported using an aggressive child-management strategy during the follow-up period, compared to 71 percent of mothers in the comparison group.
Mother’s Return to Partner
Mothers in the Project Support program were less likely to have returned to their abusive partners during the follow-up period. Twenty-three percent of mothers in the treatment group reported having returned to their partner during the follow-up period, compared to 53 percent of the mothers in the comparison group.
Recurrence of Physical Violence
Mothers in the Project Support program were less likely to have experienced physical violence during the follow-up period. Thirty-eight percent of mothers in the treatment group reported a recurrence of violence, compared to 47 percent of mothers in the control group.