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In-Depth Interview Study of Human Service Professionals

Alliance members interviewed human service professionals around the country about their experience observing parents engage in sub-optimal parenting. They were asked about the types of behaviors they observe, how they respond, and how they feel about their response.  One paper has been written about the types of suboptimal parenting observed and barriers to intervening in the moment, which is currently under review. A second paper is in preparation, focusing on effective in-the-moment interventions.


Content Analysis of Parenting Information on Social Media

The research sub-committee of the PM Alliance has completed a study regarding the content of 236 blog posts produced in response to a de-identified search query "How should I discipline my child?" For the first paper from this study, each post was coded for presence/absence of eight discipline strategies, six aspects of parental warmth and acceptance, and five elements of positive parenting. Major findings include:

  • The content is generally consistent with evidence-based parenting practices

  • On average only one discipline strategy was mentioned per post

  • There is a strong preference for time-out and logical consequences over less punitive strategies 

  • One fourth of the posts did not mention any aspect of parental acceptance, a vital component of parent-child relationships

  • One third of the posts did not mention any aspect of positive parenting

  • Fewer than half of the posts had at least one element of all three (discipline strategy, parental warmth, positive parenting).

  • TAKE-AWAY: Parents seeking assistance with child-rearing would need additional guidance and support than what is offered in these posts.

  • Citations: (1) Baker, A.J.L., Brassard, M.R., Julia, K., Stormer, B., Adkins, K., Rosenzweig, R., & Chandler-Ofuya, N. (In press). On-Line parenting information through the lens of child abuse prevention: A content analysis. To appear in Child Welfare and (2) Baker, A.J.L., Brassard, M.R., Rosenzweig, J., Kagan, J., Stormer, B., & Adkins, K.L. (In press). Do online parenting blogs discourage psychological maltreatment and corporal punishment?, To appear in Journal of Public Child Welfare.

One additional paper is in preparation which involved coding the 236 posts for presence of barriers to receptivity: reading level too high, authorship by exclusively Caucasian females, and assumptions about resources that the reader has. 


Impact on Viewer Engagement of Psychological Maltreating Behaviors by Parents on TikTok

The research team is currently conducting a set of studies on collecting data on videos posted by 35 TikTok content creators, each of whom has posted at least one video of themselves engaging in psychological maltreatment behaviors (PMB) of their child. The first paper examined whether user engagement (likes, shares, views, saves, and comments) was statistically higher for the PMB videos than non-PMB videos and whether overall engagement is increased once the creator posts their first PMB video. Major findings include:

  • All forms of viewer engagement were statistically significantly higher for the videos in which parents engaged in PM type behaviors than videos from the same creators without PM behaviors. 

  • Videos with children received greater social media engagement than videos without children.

  • Engagement metrics increased after the first PM behavior video was posted.

  • Parents posted a greater proportion of child videos after the first PM behavior video was posted.

  • TAKE-AWAY: The social media platform TikTok is allowing parents to post videos of themselves engaging in behaviors that -- if severe or persistent -- would be considered psychological maltreatment. Parents who do this are being rewarded and reinforced with statistically significantly higher engagement metrics including views, likes, comments. saves and shares.

  • Citation: Stormer, B., Chandler-Ofuya, N., Baker, A.J.L., Brassard, M.R., Balin, T., & Rosenzweig, J. (in press). Caregiver psychological maltreatment of children on TikTok. To appear in Child Maltreatment.

  • Two additional papers are in process for this study. In the first, the proximal causes of the parent's behaviors are being examined to try to understand why they are treating their children this way and in the second, the comments made by viewers are being examined to determine whether anyone is challenging these types of parenting behaviors.



Rates of Psychological Maltreatment

2014 State child abuse statutes were coded regarding definitions of psychological maltreatment as well as state reported rates of PM from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. Findings include:

  • There was tremendous variation in rates of PM from one state to the next. The difference in reported rates of PM between the State with the lowest rate and the State with the highest rate was 523-fold. 

  •  Analysis of the wording of the statutes found that many still use the term “mental injury” from the original Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA, 1974).

  • Reported rates of PM in NCANDS were not correlated with whether PM was defined in the statute but when a harm standard was present, reported rates were statistically lower. 

  • Almost 70% of statutes included a newly added category (e.g., sexual/human trafficking) demonstrating a willingness by States to amend statutes.

  • TAKE-AWAY: A common, reliable definition of PM (and other forms of maltreatment) in CAPTA, NCANDS, and US State statutes is necessary for the US to have a consistent system that allows for the assessment of the effects of policies on reported rates of all forms of maltreatment.

  • Citations: Baker, A.J.L. & Brassard, M.R. (2019). Predictors of variation in state reported rates of psychological maltreatment: A survey of U.S. statutes and a call for change. Child Abuse & Neglect, 96. Click here for link and Baker, A.J.L. (2019). Reported rates of psychological maltreatment and US state statues: Implications for policy. APSAC Advisor, 31(3), 13-17. Click here for link.


Survey of APSAC Membership

APSAC members were surveyed about their knowledge of and attitudes towards psychological maltreatment. Participants rated behaviors with respect to whether they believed it represented PM and whether and under what circumstances they would make a child protection report of that behavior. Additional items on the survey assessed respondents' perception of likely outcomes of PM, how they advise parents about PM, and their training on the topic. Two peer-reviewed publications have been written based on the findings from this study. Findings from the first paper include:

  • Only 4 of the 18 examples of PM behaviors were identified by most respondents as definitely PM.

  • Most respondents believed that PM was associated with harmful outcomes “sometimes” or “mostly.”

  • Respondents revealed an intent to report to CPS for only 4 of the 18 PM behaviors.

  • Identification of a behavior as PM and as harmful predicted intent to report, explaining between 8–11 percent of the variance.

  • TAKE-AWAY: Professionals in the field of maltreatment need more training on identification and reporting of PM. A model definition of PM should be developed in order to increase reliability of identification of psychological maltreatment.

  • Citation: Baker, A.J.L., Brassard, M.R., & Rosenzweig, J. (2021). Psychological maltreatment: Definition and reporting barriers among American professionals in the field of child abuse, Child Abuse & Neglect, 114. Click here for link

For the second paper, the findings included:

  • Most respondents reported that they were not trained in their professional education to prevent PM or respond to it once it occurred.

  • Only about half reported that they feel very or extremely well-trained to advise parents on child discipline alternatives to PM.

  • Only 20% of the sample of professionals currently working in child maltreatment felt that their colleagues were well-trained in this area and therefore were likely to be a resource or support in dealing with cases involving PM. 

  • About two thirds felt supported at work in terms of addressing PM and advising parents about child discipline alternatives to PM.

  • Many professionals prioritize advising parents on positive parenting, but most do not believe that parents’ value or heed their advice.

  • TAKE-AWAY: There is much room for improvement in the education as well as on-the-job supervision of professionals who work with parents engaging in psychological maltreatment of their children.

  • Citation: Baker, A.J.L., Brassard, M.R., & Rosenzweig, J. (2021). Providing parents with advice about alternatives to psychological maltreatment: A survey of professionals in the field of child maltreatment. Child Welfare, 99 (1), 93-115. Click here for link.

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