• April 2004
  • Vol. 5, No. 3

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Mental Health Support for Young Children at Risk

A pilot program to research and improve the mental health of high-risk infants and young children in Florida has shown promising results. The multisite program, funded in 2000 by the State legislature, provided psychotherapy to children and their families to promote attachment and positive interactions between the child and mother (or primary caregiver). The program was designed to serve very young children who were at risk for out-of-home placement or already in foster care due to abuse and neglect.

The 25 sessions of psychotherapy incorporated methods to promote parental attachment and empathy, such as behavior-based strategies, play, and verbal interpretations. Extensive engagement activities, including case management and outreach services, were used to keep families in treatment.

A 3-year evaluation showed the following results:

  • Of the 105 infant/caregiver pairs referred to the program, 84 completed the pre-assessment, 43 completed treatment, and 20 were in treatment at the time of the report.
  • None of the parents had abuse reports during treatment.
  • All children who were out of parental custody at referral were reunified or placed permanently.
  • Fifty-eight percent of children showed improvements in developmental delays.
  • Parent-child relationship functioning improved significantly.

A full report of this study, which was sponsored by the Florida State University Center for Prevention & Early Intervention Policy, can be accessed at www.fsu.edu/~cpeip/EvalGrntFinalRep.pdf. An article about one of the pilot sites (Miami) was recently published on the website of the National Center for State Courts at www.ncsconline.org/WC/Publications/KIS_MenHea_Trends03.pdf.(Editor's note: Both links are no longer active.)

Related Items

Read about another mental health intervention program for at-risk children in "New Jersey Taking Integrated Approach to Mental Health Needs of Children and Families" in the January 2002 issue of Children's Bureau Express.

A program that combines therapy for preschoolers with training for parents and foster parents is profiled in the March/April 2001 issue, in "Researchers Study Early Intervention for Preschool Foster Children."

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