Results from this pilot cluster-randomized trial will inform both scientific knowledge and clinical practice by providing preliminary evidence on the efficacy of parent-child mediation for improving problem behaviors and related attitudes among at-risk youth, as well as elucidating the process through which this occurs. Mediation is a method of dispute resolution in which the parties in conflict are assisted in reaching a settlement through a neutral third party. Parent-child mediation programs are currently offered throughout the country, but have not been rigorously evaluated in terms of their impact on family functioning and youth problem behaviors such as substance use. Further, little attention has focused on the mediation process itself in terms of assessing its fundamental components and investigating how each of these components is related to positive family and youth outcomes. The proposed study involves a pilot evaluation of a parent-child mediation program for at- risk middle and high school students and their parents/guardians. School counselors at eight participating schools will identify youth who are experiencing significant behavioral problems based on well-defined criteria. Identified youth at the four intervention schools will be referred by school counselors to the parent-child mediation program. Identified youth at the four control schools will be assigned to a wait-list control condition. All participating youth and parents will complete three brief surveys (baseline, 6-week follow-up, 12-week follow-up) to obtain preliminary evidence of the short-term impact of parent-child mediation on indicators of family functioning, as well as key youth problem behaviors and related attitudes. Families who participate in parent-child mediation will also provide feedback on the mediation process in order to examine its associations with these outcomes. We will use data from this pilot evaluation to address the following three aims: 1) To investigate whether families who receive parent-child mediation (150 parents/guardians and 150 youth) show greater improvement in family functioning over a 12-week period compared to a wait-list control sample of 150 families (parent/guardian and youth) not receiving parent-child mediation;2) To investigate whether youth in families who receive parent-child mediation show greater improvement in substance use intentions and behavior, school-related behavior and attitudes, sexual activity intentions and behavior, and delinquency over a 12-week period compared to a wait-list control sample;and 3) to gain a better understanding of intervention effects by: a) exploring whether improvements in family functioning serve as an explanatory mechanism for changes in youth problem behaviors and related attitudes among families who participate in parent-child mediation versus controls;and b) identifying aspects of the parent-child mediation process that are most related to positive outcomes in family functioning and youth problem behaviors and related attitudes among families who participate in mediation. If results from this pilot evaluation are promising, we will submit an R01 application to conduct a randomized trial with a larger sample size and significantly longer follow-up period.
There is considerable need for a brief, effective program for families experiencing severe parent-child conflict as a result of youth problem behavior that can be easily and inexpensively delivered in a wide range of settings. Parent-child mediation is a promising, yet understudied approach. By reducing parent-child conflict, increasing family communication, and teaching conflict resolution skills, parent-child mediation programs may not only improve family functioning, but may have a significant positive impact on a wide range of youth problem behaviors including substance use.