High-Risk Birth Parents
Children from families who are involved with Child Protective Services (CPS) are at greater risk for developing problems related to their socio-emotional, cognitive, and brain development. In efforts to improve these children’s developmental outcomes, we assessed the efficacy of ABC among parents with CPS. Parents were randomly assigned to either receive ABC or to receive a control intervention of the same duration and frequency. We then followed up with the families when children were ages 1-4 (Time 1) and again when they were ages 8-10 (Time 2).
At Time 1, more of the ABC children developed secure and organized attachments with their parents than children in the control intervention. Additionally, ABC children showed more normative production of cortisol, less expression of negative emotions, and stronger inhibitory control. ABC parents were more sensitive and showed more optimal neural activity than parents in the control group.
At Time 2, ABC children showed greater prefrontal cortex activation in response to photographs of fearful faces compared to children in the control group. This suggests that ABC children had better regulation to threat at the level of brain activation. ABC children also reported more secure relationships with their parents, showed more normative cortisol production, and showed more optimal autonomic nervous system functioning than children in the control group.
These children are now entering adolescence, a period of particular vulnerability for the emergence of mental health problems due to increasing demands for regulation of emotions and behaviors, coupled with on-going development of neural circuits that support emotional and behavioral regulation. We will be seeing them at ages 13, 14, and 15 and measuring their inhibitory control, emotion regulation, peer relations, and physiological regulation at the level of brain activation and circuitry and at the behavioral level. We expect ABC adolescents to show different patterns of brain activation and better regulation of emotions, behaviors, and physiology than adolescents whose parents received the control intervention.