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WASHINGTON (Reuters Life!) - A parenting program that trains nurses, social workers and even clergy to advise struggling parents lowered rates of child abuse and helped keep kids out of foster care, researchers reported.
The Positive Parenting Program or "triple P" provides information on discipline from handling a grocery store tantrum to controlling bedwetting, the researchers said.
It combines this training in a way that spreads the skills throughout a community, so parents do not have to seek the help, and do not have to be embarrassed by getting the advice, said Ron Prinz of the University of South Carolina, who led the study.
"This is the first large-scale study to show that by providing all families, not just families in crisis, with access to parenting information and support, we can reduce the rates of child maltreatment in whole communities," Prinz said.
For the experiment, paid for by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Prinz and his team made the program available to all parents in 18 South Carolina counties.
They found that over two years, proven cases of child abuse were reduced by 9 percent, foster care placements by 22 percent and hospitalizations or emergency-room visits by 14 percent.
In a community with 100,000 children under age 8, Prinz reported in the journal Prevention Science, the program would lead to 688 fewer maltreated children, 240 fewer out-of-home placements such as to foster care, and 60 fewer serious injuries.
"Triple P has very practical parenting strategies that they can use to solve everyday kinds of problems -- things like how to deal with tantrums in the grocery store or mealtime issues or bedtime," Prinz said in a telephone interview.
For instance, parents can be counseled on how to take the fun out of a grocery-store tantrum by refusing to give in to the child, but also without hitting or yelling at the child.
"The parent needs to stay calm and not play into the tantrum by raising their level of anger or lecturing or cajoling. When a child is throwing a tantrum you don't want to reason with them or argue with them," Prinz said.
"You have to look at each shopping trip as an opportunity to strengthen non-tantrum behavior."
Often the best reward is the promise of some attention if the child behaves as desired, Prinz said. "That is usually what they want in the first place, anyway," he said.
Many studies have shown that the approaches work, Prinz said. And busy parents will save time in the end.
Matt Sanders at the University of Queensland in Australia combined several proven approaches into the systematic triple-P program.
Prevent Child Abuse America estimates that child abuse and neglect costs more than $94 billion a year in 2001 dollars in the United States alone, and found 3.3 million referrals of alleged child abuse or neglect and 899,000 substantiated child abuse or neglect cases in 2005.
"Children who have been abused are much more likely to have mental health problems later," Prinz said. "They are much more likely to get into trouble as teenagers and adults ... they are more unhappy in their lives and less productive in work."