All entries for Wednesday 18 January 2012

January 18, 2012

How Warwick is working to understand and therefore prevent, child abuse

Professor Jane Barlow, Professor of Public Health at Warwick Medical School, talks about the research examining the rise of child abuse and maltreatment

Without question, the first two years of a child’s life are crucial because research has shown that the parent-infant relationship during this period influences so many aspects of the child’s early and later development and it has significant impact on their rapidly developing brain.

child health

Sadly, recent estimates (All Babies Count, 2011) show that maltreatment during infancy is still common:

  • Around half of all serious case reviews in England are for a child under the age of one year
  • Between 8-12% of all children on a child protection plan are less than 1 year of age; neglect is the most common category of abuse for children under 1 year of age followed by emotional abuse, physical abuse, multiple abuse and sexual abuse
  • Non-accidental head injuries are high in infancy, and result in up to a third of the deaths in this age-group, with significant brain damage occurring in around half of the survivors

Many babies in the UK are born to drug-dependent parents, and dependence on psychoactive drugs during the postnatal period is associated with high rates of child maltreatment, with around a quarter of these children being subject to a child protection plan.

Parents who are dependent on psychoactive drugs are at risk of a wide range of parenting problems, and studies have found reduced sensitivity and responsiveness to both the infant’s physical and emotional needs. The poor outcomes that are associated with drug-dependency appear to be linked to the multiple difficulties experienced by such parents, e.g. mental health problems, family relationships, socio-economic factors, etc.

An increase in understanding about the crucial importance of early relationships for infant wellbeing, has led us to a focus on the development and delivery of services that are aimed at supporting parenting and parent-infant interaction, particularly in families experiencing serious problems, and where there is a high risk of abuse.

Warwick Infant and Family Wellbeing Unit (WIFWU) is working on a number of research projects that are aimed at preventing such abuse.

We are working with Oxfordshire Social Care to develop a perinatal care pathway in which women experiencing a range of serious problems during pregnancy (alcohol/drug dependency; serious mental health problems and domestic violence) will be provided with an intensive programme of intervention aimed at supporting them through the first year of the baby’s life. It’s also aimed at addressing early parenting difficulties.

We are working closely with the NSPCC on a newly developed intervention called the Parents under Pressure (PUP) programme, which is aimed at supporting parents who are dependent on psychoactive drugs or alcohol by providing them with methods of managing their emotional regulation, and of supporting their new baby’s development. The intervention is also aimed at helping families to address wider problems related to housing and social factors.

At Warwick, we are evaluating the effectiveness of this programme using a randomised controlled trial.

If you are interested in these or any other aspects of the work of Warwick Infant and Family Wellbeing Unit visit the WIFWU website or please contact: Professor Jane Barlow – jane.barlow@warwick.ac.uk


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  • Dear Dr Gadsby, I listened with interest to the recent case notes programme. I worked in various pha… by Robert Carter on this entry
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