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CSC Prevention Research News Update: Early Family Intervention

by Kathleen Kiely Gouley, PhD and

Enhancing parenting practices and child social competence in low-income families of preschool-aged children has been shown to be effective in preventing later conduct problems. An innovative series of studies conducted by the Institute for Prevention Science of the NYU Child Study Center under the leadership of Dr. Laurie Miller Brotman has yielded positive findings for children at high risk for conduct problems based on familial antisocial behavior. A description of study findings to date follows:

  • Siblings of delinquent youth are at high risk for following in their footsteps. A randomized controlled trial with 92 siblings of adolescents adjudicated in family court tested the utility of a videotape-modeling program in the prevention of conduct problems. This 10-year study, funded by the National Institute for Mental Health (Miller Brotman, Klein, & Kiely Gouley, 1997–2007) found that families with an adolescent who engaged in serious delinquent behaviors were motivated to participate in a prevention program focused on their preschool-aged children who had not yet evidenced significant conduct problems. The family-based intervention (22 group sessions and 10 home visits) led to improvements in parenting: immediately after the intervention, parents used fewer negative parenting practices, such as harsh discipline and criticism, and provided more stimulation for learning at home. These improvements in negative parenting and stimulation for learning were maintained over a two-year period, and significant differences in positive parenting (e.g., praise, warmth and affection) emerged two years later. In addition to improvements in parenting, the preschoolers showed better peer entry and play skills immediately following intervention. Follow-up over 2 years showed relatively less child aggressive behavior during play interactions with parents . Importantly, these findings all relied on observations of children and parents by raters who were unaware of whether the families participated in the program or were in the control condition. In addition, the study found relatively fewer antisocial behaviors and greater positive peer relationships in non-targeted adolescents as rated by parents and teachers. These changes in family risk factors (i.e., harsh parenting, stimulation for learning, child social competence, sibling antisocial behavior) and early aggressive behavior are expected to contribute to the long-term prevention of conduct disorders in the targeted preschoolers prior to adolescence. In addition, following the intervention, relative to controls, children in the intervention program developed an adaptive stress response (measured by salivary cortisol (a stress hormone) in anticipation of a social challenge (joining a group of unfamiliar preschoolers for play). This finding suggests that this family-based prevention program alters the stress response of preschoolers as they anticipate a challenging social situation and may also have implications for the development of psychopathology later in childhood. Dr. Brotman and colleagues continue to study the long-term effects of the early intervention program during middle childhood and adolescence on delinquency, psychiatric disorder, academic achievement, substance use, physical health, and peer and romantic relationships. Findings from these studies will further our understanding of the breadth of possible outcomes from early family preventive intervention.

  • As a result of these positive findings, Dr. Brotman and colleagues developed ParentCorps (Brotman and Calzada) a family and school program designed to be attractive and engaging to families of preschoolers living in socio-economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. The program includes an after-school 13-week program delivered by the NYU Child Study Center and school staff , and a program of training and consultation for Pre-K teachers and other school staff (TeacherCorps). The program has been pilot tested in Central Harlem and in 8 schools in Brooklyn, NY. It is now being evaluated in a large study in ten NYC public schools with nearly l,000 children funded by the U. S. Department of Education (Brotman, Calzada, & McClure) Dozens of clinicians, research scientists and research assistants within the Institute for Prevention Science have contributed to this work. The current team of research scientists includes: Laurie Miller Brotman, Ph.D.; Kathleen Gouley, Ph.D., Esther Calzada, Ph.D., Sharon Kingston, Ph.D., Spring Dawson-McClure, Ph.D., Colleen O’Neal, Ph.D., Yen Huang, Ph.D., Amanda Rosenfelt, LCSW, and Demy Kamboukos, Ph.D..

The studies referred to include:

Brotman, LM, Gouley, KK, O'Neal, C, & Klein, RG. (2004). Preschool-aged siblings of adjudicated youths: Multiple risk factors for conduct problems. Early Education and Development, 15, 387-406.

Brotman, LM, Gouley, KK, Chesir-Teran, D, Dennis, T, Klein, RG, & Shrout, P. (2005). Prevention for preschoolers at high risk for conduct problems: Immediate outcomes on parenting practices and child social competence. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 34, 724-734.

Brotman, LM, Dawson-McClure, S, Gouley, KK, McGuire, K, Burraston, B, & Bank, L. (2005). Older siblings benefit from a family-based prevention program for preschoolers at risk for conduct problems. Journal of Family Psychology, 19, 581-5Brotman, LM, Klein, RG, Gouley, KK, Chesir-Teran, D, Huang, Y, Rosenfelt, A, & Shrout, P. Two-year outcomes on physical aggression from a randomized prevention trial in preschool-age siblings of adjudicated youths. Under review, Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology.

Brotman, LM, Gouley, KK, Chesir-Teran, D, Fratto, C, & Pine, D. Effects of a randomized controlled trial on cortisol response to a social challenge in preschoolers at high risk for psychopathology. (Manuscript in preparation).

Miller Brotman, L., Kingston, S., Bat-Chava, Y., Calzada, E., & Caldwell, M. B. (2008) Training Early Childhood Educators to Facilitate an After-School Family Preventive Intervention. Early Education and Development, (in press).