What evidence is there that parenting interventions reduce child abuse and neglect among maltreating families? A systematic review

Sarah Whitcombe-Dobbs, Michael Tarren-Sweeney - Developmental Child Welfare


In families where child abuse and neglect have already occurred, there is a strong imperative to provide interventions that reduce or eliminate harm done to children. Parenting programs lack tailoring for the needs of maltreating parents, and maltreating parents themselves are a heterogeneous group with varying needs. The literature on the effectiveness of parenting interventions for high-risk parents is limited, and this scarcity of knowledge can result in child protection cases being treated as a natural experiment. For children who experience ongoing maltreatment by their parents, the most stringent test for effectiveness goes beyond an improvement in positive parenting skills—child abuse and neglect must reduce or be eliminated. The present review addressed the research question What evidence is there that parenting interventions conducted with parents who maltreat their children, reduce the incidence of further child maltreatment? Databases were searched for trials of parenting interventions where participants were maltreating parents and outcome data included an objective measure of child abuse and neglect. Nine studies satisfied the selection criteria and are summarized. Four studies reported a statistically significant difference between groups in favor of the intervention group for two parenting interventions, Parent–Child Interaction Therapy and SafeCare. However, the review concludes that none of the reviewed parenting interventions have been demonstrated to be effective at reducing all types of child maltreatment through a high-quality RCT. Previous research is compromised by several critical methodological limitations, including low participant recruitment and retention, and narrow selection criteria. Recommendations are offered for future research on parenting interventions that aim to reduce child abuse and neglect.