Sixth annual Child Maltreatment Solutions Network conference held recently

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- All families experience some type of stress; however, military families may be facing particular stressors due to frequent moves, deployment, and operational stress. Promoting family well-being broadly through different perspectives and common challenges was the focus of Penn State’s sixth annual Child Maltreatment Solutions Network conference, co-sponsored by Penn State’s Clearinghouse for Military Readiness, held recently at the Nittany Lion Inn.

Jennie Noll, Child Maltreatment Solutions Network director and professor of human development and family studies at Penn State, notes that the military and civilian sectors often work independently, but there is much to gain in working together and gleaning knowledge from each other.

“The purpose of the conference was to present child welfare research to determine if there are disparities in current knowledge; support shared aspects; and allow time for cooperative discussion between its attendees," said Noll, "and to take military family research and programs and use them more broadly to promote family well-being in the military and civilian worlds.”

Amy Slep, professor of clinical psychology at New York University, discussed developing a definitive definition of child maltreatment for the military. She was part of a research team that evaluated the reliability and validity of these definitions to make them consistent within the U.S. Air Force. After numerous studies and field trials, she discovered a 90 percent reliability when widely implemented, which also resulted in additional prevention efforts. The criteria she helped develop was adopted by the U.S. Department of Defense, as well as the Alaska Child Welfare system and numerous healthcare organizations.

Dara Lively, a social services program officer for the state of Alaska, piloted the child maltreatment assessment protocol (MAP), heavily informed by the program being used by Alaskan Air Force installations. “MAP is great example of a military program adapted for civilian use,” said Lively. “The Air Force customized it for us and even provided training for attorneys, tribal partners, law enforcement and others. Adoption of MAP allows for increased consistency in determining child maltreatment cases."

Combined parent-child cognitive behavioral therapy for at-risk-families programs was also discussed at the conference. Melissa Runyan, licensed psychologist and child trauma and abuse expert, and her colleagues developed a combined parent-child program after learning social services typically only offered parent trainings.

“We wanted a program that would address the emotional and behavioral needs of both children and their parents, one that would assist children in healing from trauma while improving parenting skills and parent-child relationships,” Runyan said.

Another program highlighted at the conference was one developed at Penn State’s Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness. Jennifer DiNallo, director of research, and Alison Turley, research assistant, presented the THRIVE Initiative’s GROW! Program for children. GROW! has four program areas for children from birth through the age of 18. The program includes positive parenting practices, parent and child stress management, and child physical health promotion.

“We looked into other programs, but none of them included a health promotion component, so we created one that would get parents to think about promoting health to their children,” DiNallo explained.

The program utilizes a components approach and includes strategies for parents backed by evidence. It aims to harness the immense potential of parents as agents of change to assist their children through adolescence. The Clearinghouse provides training for facilitators of the program, along with evaluating the program’s effectiveness. They’ve tested the program in two communities in central Pennsylvania and found high levels of satisfaction from both parents and facilitators. They recently conducted a military pilot study and had similar outcomes.

The conference also explored the use of technology to promote and deliver evidence-based programs. “In rural areas, tele-health addresses the barriers of few trained examiners, high examiner burn-out, traveling great distances and allowing for mobile technology, evaluation and innovation,” said Sheridan Miyamoto, assistant professor of nursing and Solutions Network co-funded faculty member.

Utilizing technology, "After Deployment: Adaptive Parenting Tools (ADAPT)" was presented by Abigail Gewirtz, professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota. ADAPT is a 14-week group program that is available online and in a tele-health version. “Deployment creates stressors for our military families, in both parents and children. The ADAPT program helps to alleviate these stressors and improve outcomes for both parents and children,” Gewirtz said.

Furthering the technology discussion, a 16-session family education program was presented -- "Families OverComing Under Stress (FOCUS)." FOCUS  is a customizable program that is available via an in-home tele-health version and provides families with resiliency trainings where they live. Included with the program is a mobile app called "Focus On the Go!" that contains modeling videos for parents, and games to help families become stronger in the face of challenges.

The conference concluded by focusing on how research can be translated to stress-exposed individuals, along with applicable strategies for prevention and improving outcomes.

“With an eclectic audience representation, this conference was a unique opportunity to encourage a dialogue between attendees, an essential step in in scientific inquiry and the evolution of scientific knowledge into real-world application and practice,” said Noll.

Since the Solutions Network was launched in Fall 2012, The Child Maltreatment Solutions Network conferences have established a concrete frontier of understanding child maltreatment through advanced research. Other conference sponsors include Penn State’s The Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, The Child Study Center, The Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and The College of Nursing, and Penn State’s departments of Biobehavioral Health; Human Development and Family Studies; Public Health Sciences; and Educational Psychology, Counseling and Special Education.

The Solutions Network was created to advance Penn State’s academic mission of teaching, research, and engagement in the area of child maltreatment. It is part of the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State.

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Last Updated November 21, 2017