DALLAS (SMU) – Project Support, an intervention program designed to help improve the parent-child relationship and mental health outcomes for children in families in which intimate partner violence has occurred, is being implemented through social services agencies across Sweden. After a multi-year study, the National Swedish Health Technology Assessment in 2018 designated Project Support, originally developed by SMU Department of Psychology professors Renee McDonald and Ernest Jouriles, as one of two programs with a sufficient evidence base for helping children in domestically violent families.

“Project Support has been demonstrated to ameliorate child adjustment problems and improve family functioning,” says Dr. McDonald. “The program has been evaluated in the U.S. with support from the National Institute of Mental Health and we are delighted that it is now being adopted and utilized in Sweden.”

Project Support is an intensive, one-on-one program in which mental health service providers meet with families weekly in their homes for up to 6 months. During that time, parents are taught specific skills, including how to pay attention and play with their children, how to listen and comfort them, how to offer praise and positive attention, how to give appropriate instructions, and how to respond to misbehavior. Service providers also provide mothers with emotional support and help them access needed materials and resources through community agencies, such as food banks.

McDonald and Jouriles launched Project Support in the United States in 1996 to address the mental health problems of maltreated children and children exposed to domestic violence and child abuse. Those factors in childhood often lead to considerable problems for children later in life, such as substance abuse, interpersonal violence and criminal activity, say the SMU psychologists.

Both federal and state databases list Project Support as an intervention for children in violent families that is supported by research evidence.

Researchers funded by the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare, worked with Drs. McDonald and Jouriles to adapt and evaluate the feasibility of providing Project Support to families receiving assistance from the Swedish child welfare agencies.

In early April, SMU hosted six of the original cohort of service providers in Uppsala, Sweden, who were trained to provide Project Support, so that they can share their experiences with Project Support and learn more about programs and services in the U.S. for families in which violence occurs. They visited SMU’s Family Research Center, the Dallas Children’s Advocacy CenterThe Family Place, and Momentous Institute.

U.S. child welfare agencies received more than 4 million reports of child abuse and neglect involving more than 7 million children in 2017, the most recent year data is available, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported. Approximately 13 percent of children in the U.S. are exposed to severe acts of inter-parent violence.

In Sweden, approximately 5 percent of that nation’s children are exposed to severe acts of inter-parent violence, according to Swedish statistics. 

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