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March 2018Vol. 19, No. 2Evaluation of Boys Town In-Home Family Services With Families Referred by Child Welfare

Child maltreatment is a risk factor for a wide range of negative physical and psychological consequences that can persist into adulthood, including substance use, depression, poor relationship skills, academic difficulties, and more. Further, parents who have experienced maltreatment themselves are at risk of maltreating their children, perpetuating the cycle of abuse and neglect.

A recent study published in the Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work describes an evaluation of the Boys Town In-Home Family Services (IHFS) model implemented with families who have been referred by a child welfare agency for having a history of child maltreatment. Boys Town IHFS is a reactive (i.e., to prevent recurrence and reduce negative outcomes), home-based, and family-centered approach to dealing with maltreatment within families that aims to preserve families, improve family functioning, and prevent future occurrences of maltreatment and involvement with child welfare.

A total of 135 participants were selected from parents referred to IHFS by a state child welfare agency in the Midwest because of suspected child maltreatment. Participants completed an intake questionnaire as well as the following parent-report questionnaires: The Addiction Severity Index-Lite, which is a 124-item semistructured interview designed to measure alcohol and drug use, medical and psychiatric health, employment status, family relations, and illegal activity, and the Strength and Stressors questionnaire, which is a 35-item interview designed to assess environment, social support, parental capabilities, family interactions, family safety, and child well-being. Participants were also required to complete a discharge questionnaire at the conclusion of the evaluation.

The results of the interviews and questionnaires indicated that, at intake, 15 percent of parents reported they received formal substance use treatment; 36 percent reported that they had tried methamphetamines at least once; 35 percent reported at least one criminal conviction; and 57 and 41 percent, respectively, reported that they were victims of physical and sexual abuse. In terms of the IHFS evaluation, according to the Strengths and Stressors questionnaire there was a statistically significant reduction in perceived child and family stressors between intake and the end of the evaluation, with the largest effects seen in the domains of family safety, parental capabilities, and environmental factors. Because a main component of IHFS is parental training, relief from stressors may be attributed to improved parenting.

These findings show the importance of building an evidence base for and conducting more rigorous research on widely disseminated programs, like IHFS, using randomized controlled trials with larger sample sizes, which will allow researchers to gauge which families respond best to IHFS; longer-term follow-up assessments; and multisource and multimethod assessment approaches to rule out parental self-report bias.

The article "Evaluation of Boys Town In-Home Family Services With Families Referred by Child Welfare," by Gilbert R. Parra, Jordan R. Ross, Jay L. Ringle, Natalie R. Samson, & Ronald W. Thompson (Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work, 13), is available at