• July/August 2018
  • Vol. 19, No. 6

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Intervention Promotes Caregiver Responsiveness, Child Well-Being in Vulnerable Families

Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up (ABC) is an evidence-based intervention, developed by Mary Dozier, Ph.D., Amy E. du Pont Chair of Child Development at the University of Delaware, and colleagues over a 20-year period, that seeks to enhance a parent's or caregiver's ability to nurture and respond to an infant or child in their care. ABC has proven useful in improving both the attachment security and neurobiology of young children who have experienced early abuse or neglect.

The article, Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up: An Evidence-Based Intervention for Vulnerable Infants and Their Families, looks at the following research findings and implications for clinical practice:

  • Child attachment quality—A randomized trial with 120 children found that children formed organized attachments more frequently if their parents or caregivers had received the ABC intervention (52 percent of the children in the ABC group formed secure attachments compared with 33 percent in the control group).
  • Child stress hormones—The ABC intervention proved effective in normalizing the production of cortisol, the hormone associated with stress. The improvements from the intervention were maintained for approximately 3 years after the intervention ended.
  • Child emotion regulationChildren whose parents participated in the ABC intervention were less reactive than those in the control group when confronted with a challenging task.
  • Child executive functioningChildren whose parents or caregivers participated in ABC showed greater executive functioning than those in the control group.
  • Parent report of child behavior problemsParents and other caregivers who participated in the ABC intervention reported similar levels of problem behaviors in children as those in the control group. The authors assert that observations of children's self-control in both groups suggest a strong endorsement of the intervention's ability to positively affect behavior.
  • Parent sensitivity—The ability of a parent or primary caregiver to follow a child's lead was assessed through play interactions. Parents who participated in ABC showed greater sensitivity than those in the control group.
  • Parent brain activity—Participants' brain activity was examined 3 years postintervention. Parents who participated in ABC showed greater neural activity than those in the control group in response to an infant's or child's facial expressions and related cues, as well as the ability to differentiate between crying, laughing, and more neutral moods.

The article also highlights the issues to consider when developing interventions for the families of young children who have experienced early adversity, advice to researchers, and future directions for research.

The paper is available at http://www.abcintervention.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/2016-Dozier-et-al.pdf (366 KB).

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