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Work on teens profiled

The work of the Parenting and Family Support Centre’s Dr Kylie Burke and Dr Cassandra Dittman has been profiled in Campus Review, a publication which connects readers across Australian research institutions.

In an article for Campus Review, as well as in an audio interview available on the Campus Review website, Dr Burke talks about how effective parenting and close parent-adolescent relationships are important protective factors for children in adolescence.

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Ireland and the population-level effect: How schools were the key to reaching those most in need

Brief interventions played a major role in the success of a population-level delivery of the Triple P system in the Irish Midlands, the director of the partnership involved in the rollout, Conor Owens, told this year’s Helping Families Change Conference (HFCC) in Amsterdam.

The Longford Westmeath Parenting Partnership made Triple P available free to all parents of children under the age of eight to reduce prevalence rates of clinically elevated social, emotional and behavioural problems in children, estimated to be one in five children in Ireland.

Their goal was also to help parents become more confident and feel more supported, as well as to reduce parents’ levels of anxiety and depression relating to their children’s behaviour.

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News about the research is spreading around the world but more families need to find out about Stepping Stones Triple P

At a time when educators, parents and policy advisors in Australia are grappling with how to deal with the emotional and behavioural needs of children with disabilities, Stepping Stones Triple P is demonstrating it can provide at least some of the answers.

The evidence is clear that rates of depression and anxiety are much higher for mothers of children with a developmental disability than those of typically developing children (Gray et al., 2011). We also know children with an intellectual disability are also more likely to be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, such as anxiety disorder, depression, and conduct disorder (Emerson, 2003; Gadow, Guttmann-Steinmetz, Rieffe, & DeVincent, 2012).

So when a paper is published confirming that evidence-based programs can help these families, I think we should all be shouting it from the rooftops, so that families and policy makers hear the message loud and clear.

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‘We need to turn wishful thinking to help the lives of children into a public funding priority to support the skills of parents’

In a world where the well-being of children is a priority, preparing for parenting would become something people aspire to, not something associated with stigma, Professor Matt Sanders, founder of the Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, told delegates at this year’s Helping Families Change Conference in The Netherlands.

In such a world, evidence-based parenting programs would become a policy priority for governments and be funded accordingly because parents had demanded that it be so.

“The single most important thing we as a community we can do to promote the well-being of children and reduce child maltreatment is to increase the skills, confidence and competence of parents at a whole-of-population level,’’ Professor Sanders said in his keynote address to the 17th annual HFCC at the historic Beurs Van Berlage building in the heart of Amsterdam.

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Bryan Samuels: Why removing a child from harm’s way should not simply mean ‘case closed’


IMG_5433 (10)The University of Chicago’s Bryan Samuels during his presentation to this year’s Helping Families Change Conference at Beurs Van Berlage  in Amsterdam.

Mounting evidence of the cumulative effects of complex trauma, toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences has helped shift the way that child support services are delivered across a number of US states, this year’s Helping Families Change Conference (HFCC) was told.

In his keynote address to the 17th annual HFCC in Amsterdam, the former director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Bryan Samuels, said that for the past 15 years, US state administrators had focused on the safety and permanency of children in the welfare system at the expense of outcomes based on child welfare.

“There is no doubt that children in harm’s way should be removed from a dangerous situation,’’ Mr Samuels said. “However, simply moving a child out of immediate danger does not in itself reverse or eliminate the way that he or she has learned to be fearful. The child’s memory retains those learned links and such thoughts and memories are sufficient to elicit ongoing fear and make a child anxious.’’

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What should parents do if their child is bullied at school?

Having your child bullied at school is one of the greatest fears of parents – and research shows this fear is well founded. School bullying has been described as the single most important threat to the mental health of children and adolescents.

Well-controlled studies show that being bullied in primary school increases the risk of serious mental health problems into adolescence and ongoing depression leading well into adulthood.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t?

So when parents find out their child is being bullied, they are right to be concerned. But what exactly should they do about it? Should they tell the school, approach the parents of the other child, or just let their child deal with it?

It can be difficult to weigh up the sometimes conflicting advice given to parents. Parents desperately want to help their child, but if they jump in too quickly to protect their child they can be labelled as over-protective or over-indulgent.

School authorities often recommend parents leave the school to handle it. This is fine if the school is successful in stopping the bullying. However, this is not always the case. Most school programs to address bullying make only modest improvements, leaving some children to continue to be bullied.

This could be why we often hear of parents taking matters into their own hands. This can lead to uncertain legal ground if parents reprimand other children and to ugly arguments between parents. Clearly none of these approaches is ideal.

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Taking care of vulnerable children starts with empathy

When it comes to the difficult topic of child maltreatment, it’s easy to condemn. What might not be so easy to understand for parents who sacrifice the second car for the school fees or drive hundreds of kilometres each weekend taking kids to social and sporting events, is that even parents found guilty of neglecting their children want better lives for their kids.

I’ve often seen this in clinical practice. It’s not that struggling parents lack the will to provide a safe and loving environment for their children. What they are lacking are the skills, knowledge and confidence to create the kind of environment where children feel safe, loved and secure, where kids can grow up to become capable people ready to deal with the world and its challenges.

The lives of parents struggling to look after children can be full of turmoil and riven by poverty, a situation reinforced by social structures where a lack of opportunity is transmitted from one generation to the next.

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‘Parents these days’ are judged too harshly

The ConversationThe following article was first published in The Conversation. At the time of publication, it was the second-most read article authored by a University of Queensland staff member. It has been published in print in The Melbourne Age and online at The Washington Post.

I need to start with a confession: I’m not a parent.

I am someone who investigates how science can help parents deal with the sleepless nights, the fussy eaters, the sibling rivalry, the intrusive in-laws, and a career that favours fulltime hours.

I certainly don’t know what it feels like to hold your own child in your arms and to see that same child grow to become an independent human being.

I haven’t experienced these things.

What I have experienced, though, is the growing and seemingly widespread view that parents these days aren’t doing a good job – that in fact they’re doing a “crap” job.

Parents are out of touch, we’re told, and too soft. They give in to their kids too easily. They’re over-involved helicopter parents, or under-involved don’t care parents. Or they could be bulldozer or lawn-mower parents, the ones who smooth the way for their child’s transition through life and make life difficult for everyone else in the process.

This is the old “kids these days” narrative but applied to parents.

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