FamilyLive Feasibility and Effectiveness Study

Principal Investigator: Harolyn Belcher

Children who have been exposed to neglect often have parents who experienced their own childhood neglect and/or trauma (defined as childhood physical, sexual or emotional abuse, exposure to life threatening events, domestic and/or community violence, parental mental health disorders, substance abuse, and/or incarceration). These parental experiences of neglect and trauma during childhood are associated with disengaged and ineffective parenting behaviors and disrupted attachment processes between the parent and their own child. Disrupted attachment can result in the child exhibiting physiological dysregulation and behavior problems, which pose barriers to the child's academic and social success/development. Often, unresolved intergenerational trauma makes treatment of children with trauma and its sequelae, including Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, attachment disorders and dysregulation characterized by emotional lability, hyperarousal, and sleep and attention disturbances, difficult to manage.

FamilyLive (FL) is a promising treatment approach developed by clinicians at the Kennedy Krieger Family Center (Family Center) over 10 years ago to address the unique needs of families with unresolved and untreated histories of neglect and disrupted attachment who need support to build skills for managing their children’s responses and behaviors. FL uses a team approach with a therapist in the room with the family and call-in observations and clinical suggests from a clinician behind a one-way mirror. Through the call-in process the treatment team provides validation, acknowledgement, support and multiple perspectives for the family’s experiences. The FL approach works with families to improve parental self-care, stress management, emotional regulation and self-awareness. Despite its clinical use at the Family Center, the effectiveness of FL has never been systematically evaluated using a randomized design.

This study will systematically evaluate the feasibility of conducting a randomized clinical trial of FL versus standard mental health care at the Family Center for children with a history of neglect and their caregivers who also have a history of childhood neglect, with or without trauma. Caregivers are defined as any adult who assumes primary responsibility for the child's daily care in the home environment, and may include a biological parent, adoptive parent, grandparent, aunt/uncle, sibling who has reached the age of majority who is the primary caretaker of the child client, etc. Evaluation methods include standardized instruments and EKG administered at baseline, 3, 6, and 12 months.

Study Objectives:
Primary objective: To examine the feasibility of recruiting and conducting the proposed intervention and evaluation procedures on a cohort of children exposed to neglect and their caregivers using a randomized design.
Secondary objective: Examine the effects of FL on heart rate variability, behavior, post traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and functioning.
Tertiary objective: To examine differences in treatment outcomes (trauma symptoms, behavior problems, child functioning, parent behavior, etc.) between clients who receive FamilyLive and clients who receive SMHC at the Family Center.