Effects of Healthy Families New York on the Promotion of Maternal Parenting Competencies and the Prevention of Harsh Parenting

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Objectives: This paper examines the effectiveness of the Healthy Families New York (HFNY) home visiting program in promoting parenting competencies and preventing maladaptive parenting behaviors in mothers at risk for child abuse and neglect.

Methods: The study used microlevel observational assessments of mother-child interactions in the third wave of a randomized controlled trial to evaluate whether mothers who received home visiting services were more likely to exhibit positive parenting and less likely to display negative parenting behaviors than those who did not receive these services. Women were randomly assigned during pregnancy or shortly after the birth of the target child to an intervention group that was offered home visiting services or a control group that was given referrals to other services. At Year 3, 522 mother and child pairs were systematically observed while they interacted in semistructured tasks presenting varied parenting challenges. The study also sought to replicate a finding from Year 2, which revealed that program effects on harsh parenting were stronger among young, first-time mothers who were randomly assigned during pregnancy (the High Prevention Opportunity subgroup) than among the other mothers (the Limited Prevention Opportunity subgroup).

Results: Results indicate that HFNY was effective in fostering positive parenting, such as maternal responsivity and cognitive engagement. With respect to negative parenting, HFNY mothers in the High Prevention Opportunity subgroup were less likely than their counterparts in the control group to use harsh parenting, while no differences were detected for the Limited Prevention Opportunity subgroup.

Conclusion: HFNY was successful in promoting positive parenting among mothers at risk for child abuse and neglect, which may reflect the program's strength-based approach. The replication of the High Prevention Opportunity subgroup as a moderator of program effects on harsh parenting further suggests that HFNY may be more useful for preventing the initiation rather than the recurrence of child abuse and neglect.

Practice implications: To optimize service delivery, HFNY should continue to focus on enhancing parent-child interactions, prioritize HFNY services for young, first-time mothers who are offered the program during pregnancy, and investigate effective strategies to reduce negative parenting practices among the Limited Prevention Opportunity subgroup.



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