Meta-analysis finds Triple P effective in preventing antisocial behaviour and delinquency

More evidence has come to hand that parenting programs are an effective evidence-based strategy to prevent antisocial behaviour and delinquency.

A meta-analysis update on the effects of early family/parent training programs on antisocial behaviour and delinquency (Piquero et al., 2016) is an excellent and timely study which shows the huge value that evidence-based parenting programs represent.

If you think about the costs of violent and anti-social behaviour to society, for very little outlay, parenting programs reward investors many times over.

The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology, updates and replicates Alex Piquero’s previous work published in 2009 which found that early family/parent training “is an effective intervention for reducing behaviour problems among young children’’.

The authors conclude:

“In short, early family/parent training programs are an important evidence-based strategy that deserves continued application and expansion as part of a more general strategy for building a safer society.’’

In comparing different interventions, the review authors place Triple P’s effect size of 0.56 midway between Parenting-Child Interaction Therapy (0.98) and The Incredible Years (0.37).

This is an extremely encouraging finding given that PCIT adopts a treatment approach, focusing on more difficult cases with “more room to move’’.

PCIT and, to a lesser extent, The Incredible Years are targeted, treatment interventions for families with children with well-established conduct problems.

In contrast, the Triple P multilevel system of parenting support is based on a population-based public health model which seeks to shift prevalence rates across the community.

Triple P’s approach blends early intervention, light touch programs designed with prevention in mind with more enhanced, targeted treatment options.

The Triple P studies reviewed by Piquero et al. included a mix of different delivery modalities such as over-the-phone, self-directed, and television programs – representing a mixture of brief, low-intensity prevention interventions (Sanders, Montgomery & Brechman-Toussaint) – and more intensive enhanced interventions (Sanders, Markie-Dadds, Tully & Bor).

Prevention interventions usually have lower base rates of problems and therefore less room to “improve” whereas treatment interventions such as PCIT typically have higher base rates and much greater capacity to show change over time as well as larger effect sizes.

An intensive intervention with multiple sessions (12 or more) may produce larger effect sizes than briefer interventions (eight or less sessions) but a brief intervention may have greater impact because it’s less expensive to deliver with more families able to be seen with the same allocation of practitioner time.

Generally meta-analyses of parent training have not looked at these issues of cost and population reach that an intervention can achieve.

Both treatment and prevention approaches are important and both need to be incorporated in any effort to treat and prevent anti-social behaviour and delinquency.

However, issues such as practitioner availability and the amount of time that parents can dedicate to participation are important factors that agencies need to weigh up when considering how to implement a prevention health approach.

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Disclosure statement

The Triple P – Positive Parenting Program is owned by the University of Queensland. The University through its main technology transfer company, UniQuest Pty Ltd, has licensed Triple P International Pty Ltd to publish and disseminate the program worldwide. Royalties stemming from published Triple P resources are distributed to the Parenting and Family Support Centre; School of Psychology; Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences; and contributory authors. No author has any share or ownership in Triple P International Pty Ltd. Matthew Sanders is the founder and an author on various Triple P programs and a consultant to Triple P International.