Activities

Here is a list of recently completed and on-going research projects in the Children’s Well-Being Lab.

Evaluation of the Positive Discipline in Everyday Parenting (PDEP) program (SSHRC) - Ongoing

  • This is a collaboration with 9 Ontario Early Child and Family Centres in Ottawa and surrounding regions to train staff in the PDEP program and then evaluate outcomes by way of randomized controlled methodology. We have trained about 20 PDEP facilitators.
  • PDEP was created by Dr. Joan Durrant at the University of Manitoba with the explicit aim of preventing violence against children in their homes, and it is currently being delivered in 30 countries. Until now, the program developers focused on establishing a training system to optimize program fidelity and delivery in order to create a solid foundation for outcome evaluation. The next step appeared to be a rigorous evaluation to solidly establish its empirical base and status as an evidence-based program.
  • Currently, we have two years of data collection that consist of running a first PDEP group (experimental) followed by a second PDEP group (wait-list control). Data consist of parent self-report measures at pre- and post-PDEP and at 1- and 3-month follow-ups. We are also interviewing parents about their experiences in the program.  Graduate student Elena Gallitto is actively involved in this project.
  • This project fits within Dr. Romano’s overall framework of practice-changing research in that the PDEP program represents a universal primary prevention strategy aimed at reducing violence within the family. It is also currently aligned with federal initiatives to address the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations (a primary one being the elimination of child physical punishment) and with federal responsibilities to uphold tenets of the UN Convention on the Rights of Child (which has been ratified by Canada and which calls for the elimination of all forms of violence against children).

The SafeCare® Program for Child Neglect: Examining Differential Outcomes and Change Mechanisms (CIHR) - Ongoing

  • Child neglect is a serious form of maltreatment because of its heightened risk of occurrence during the first five years of life (which are critical for later development) and its short- and long-term impact across multiple domains of functioning. In Ontario, child neglect is the second most common form of substantiated maltreatment among investigated child welfare cases.
  • In a previous CIHR project, we implemented an evidence-based child neglect program (SafeCare®) across 6 Ontario child welfare agencies. We collected information from multiple stakeholders to assess program feasibility, satisfaction, and sustainability, and we collected preliminary data on outcomes. The project’s focus on implementation and preliminary outcomes did not provide for a rigorous evaluation of differential outcomes, change mechanisms, and child maltreatment reduction.
  • This project focuses on the following: 1) What are the trajectories of change for child (e.g., socio-emotional functioning) and caregiver (e.g., abuse potential) outcomes following SafeCare, and what predicts these trajectories? 2) What is the role of improved caregiver emotion regulation, decreased parenting stress, and improved caregiver executive functioning on child and caregiver outcomes following SafeCare? and 3) Do caregivers who complete SafeCare have decreased child welfare contact (i.e., lower recidivism)?
  • We are currently working to secure the collaboration of Ontario child welfare agencies so that practitioners may be trained in the SafeCare program. At this point, once the SafeCare program is offered to families, we can begin our data collection. We will use a multi-method approach that relies on behavioural, biological, neuropsychological, and administrative data collection measures. We will gather data prior to the start of SafeCare and at various points following its completion (post as well as 6- and 12-months post-SafeCare).
  • This project involves a multi-disciplinary team with a co-principal investigator (Dr. Andrea Gonzalez at McMaster University), co-investigators, collaborators, and students. Graduate student Sarah Zak is actively involved in the project.

 

Increasing our understanding of males with childhood sexual abuse histories (CIHR) - Completed

  • Given the high prevalence of childhood sexual abuse among males and the relative lack of empirical attention to this population, Dr. Romano seized the opportunity to serve as a co-investigator on a CIHR team grant headed by Dr. Christine Wekerle from McMaster University on youth sexual victimization.
  • Dr. Romano’s portion of this team grant involves the completion of several projects, along with her colleague (Dr. Andra Smith at University of Ottawa) and graduate students. These included developing latent profiles for adult males with histories of childhood sexual abuse, understanding the link between profiles and various mental health outcomes, understanding psychological and adaptive functioning between males with and without histories of childhood sexual abuse, and examining the brain functioning (memory, emotion processing) of adult males with sexual abuse histories. Graduate students Jennifer Lyons and Jessie Moorman were actively involved in this project.
  • Data collection has been completed, and we are currently working on dissemination activities. Currently, we have published 1 peer-reviewed journal article and have made several presentations at national and international conferences.

Intervention and implementation outcomes of the SafeCare® program for child neglect (CIHR) - Completed

  • This is a collaboration with 6 Ontario child welfare agencies that trained 28 child welfare practitioners in the implementation of an evidence-based program for families where the primary concern was child neglect. The project evaluated the program’s implementation and outcomes.
  • Practitioners successfully implemented the in-home program (SafeCare) with 84 families. The project collected data across multiple informants (families, practitioners, agency service managers) and by way of various methods (self-report, interview, observation) in order to evaluate the implementation of the SafeCare program as well as its preliminary outcomes within a Canadian context.
  • We published 4 peer-reviewed journal articles, presented at several international conferences, and provided several webinars/summaries to our community partners.

Improving Ontario child welfare's use of research to inform service planning/delivery (SSHRC) - Completed

  • This is a pilot project in collaboration with 3 Ontario child welfare agencies to provide training to various stakeholders around the integration of data into service planning and delivery.
  • In 2006, the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth made it mandatory for all child welfare agencies to use the Assessment and Action Record (AAR) on a yearly basis to track youth development over time and help establish plans of care. However, there remain challenges in applying AAR data to practice.
  • Through a SSHRC partnership development grant as co-principal investigator (along with Dr. Connie Cheung), we developed, delivered, and evaluated training curricula focused on the applied use of AAR data to child welfare stakeholders, namely senior management, supervisors, practitioners, and foster caregivers. 
  • We published 2 peer-reviewed journal articles and presented at a national conference. We are currently working on additional activities, including the development of a checklist to ensure that AAR data are being discussed as part of supervision with child welfare practitioners and the development of a tool to provide practitioners with a visual snapshot of AAR data for youth.

Conclusion

Altogether, these various research projects are addressing a number of important gaps that currently exist in the area of child maltreatment, be it at the level of:

  1. raising awareness about the unique needs of under-studied populations (males who have experienced childhood sexual abuse);
  2. providing evidence-based interventions to under-serviced populations (children who have experienced neglect); or
  3. training important stakeholders on how to address the needs of maltreated children (through improved trauma-sensitive interventions and the use of relevant research findings) or promote children’s healthy development (parents learning about positive disciplinary strategies that do not involve the use of physical punishment).

Not only are the various projects making significant contributions to advancing understanding and to changing clinical practice but they are also being conducted in close collaboration with a number of community-based partners as well as well-respected research scholars. These partnerships are critical to project success and speak directly to the applied relevance of the research in these various sectors (child welfare, early years centres).

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