Using cell phones to keep parents at risk for child maltreatment engaged in parenting programs is effective and cost efficient

Using cell phones to keep parents at risk for child maltreatment engaged in parenting programs is effective and cost efficient

In the first randomized trial on the effects of cell phone use, University of Kansas and Notre Dame researchers found that when parenting coaches texted and called mothers who had participated in a home-based parenting program, they were much more likely than the other mothers in the study to learn and use positive parenting strategies—both immediately following and six months after the program ended.

The study is also the first to test the effectiveness of cell phones as a way of increasing parents’ engagement in home-based parenting programs and keeping them from dropping out, said Judith Carta, who directed the study.

“Parents who most need to learn positive ways to interact with their children are often the most likely to drop out of parenting programs,” she said. “Ultimately, this is about preventing child maltreatment by showing parents a different, more positive way to interact with their children.”

The intervention used in the study, Planned Activities Training (PAT), is a brief program— five 90-minute home-based sessions—aimed at preventing children’s challenging behavior by giving parents strategies to use in everyday routines such as getting ready for school and bedtime, and eating dinner.

Parent coaches, known as home visitors, texted mothers twice a day five days a week, as well as calling them at least once a week, with reminders from the PAT program along with words of encouragement and suggestions for free activities available in the community that they could do with their children.

“The cell phone allowed the mother and the home visitor to become more connected,” said Kathryn Bigelow, who co-directed the study. “The texts and calls extended the home visits outside of the home.”

With the addition of the cell phone, this relatively short intervention had big e ects on parenting, said Bigelow, and since the dropout rate was half of what it was for the group that didn’t have the cell phone component, the model is cost efficient and very feasible, she said.

Further, said Carta, parents typically miss about one out of three scheduled home visits and this is expensive for home visiting programs,” said Carta, “the cost benefit of including cell phones is clear.”

Home visiting is part of the Affordable Health Care Act, said Carta. “That’s given states a whole new impetus to identify evidence-based home visiting programs. Our study will become part of that evidence base.”