The University of Queensland-developed Triple P – Positive Parenting Program has been included in US policy recommendations to reduce the toxic effects of poverty on children’s health.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that evidence-based parenting programs, including Triple P, be integrated into services provided by US medical practices.
Professor of Clinical Psychology at the Parenting and Family Support Centre and Triple P founder Professor Matt Sanders said parenting skills were part of a mix of influences that can affect a child’s health and development.
“These influences include housing, social environment, schools and access to medical care,” Professor Sanders said.
“It’s becoming clearer that powerful environmental influences through the family can alter the expression of genes and as a result children’s behaviour.”
A technical report accompanying the policy and published in the journal Pediatrics says physicians can help address the health effects of poverty on children and families by helping parents promote resilience in their young children, “giving them the capacity to adapt to adversity and buffering the effects of stress’’.
Programs such as Triple P have been shown to promote responsive parenting and address common behavioural and developmental concerns, the report states.
Poverty has been linked to low birthweight, negative effects on early brain development through toxic stress, delayed growth and development, adolescent pregnancy, chronic conditions such as asthma.
Later in life, it points to conditions such as hypertension, higher levels of depression and increased substance abuse.
The policy recommendations include that physicians in community settings become more sensitive to the needs of families affected by poverty and adopt routine screening to detect struggling families.
“Practices can use written screenings or ask families about basic needs like food, housing and heat. Patients then can be referred to a social worker or community program, or given contact information for places like food pantries,’’ the recommendations state.
Other recommendations include the promotion of early literacy promotion programs, maternal, early infant and child home visiting programs, and collaborating with community organisations to ensure families with unmet needs are supported.
Paediatricians can tap into resources such as public health departments, legal services, social work organisations, food pantries, faith-based organisations, community health services and parent support groups, the recommendations advise.