In this Phase I we will develop and evaluate the first unit of an online serious game for foster and primary parents of neglected children. The goal of the training is to learn how parents in these two historically compartmentalized roles can improve their parenting by working cooperatively. Research shows that cross-training strategies can optimize the chances that the foster child will be successfully reunified with the primary family, a central goal of the foster care system. The central psychological construct of our approach is the parental reflective function, an emerging concept for understanding and improving social interactions that is being applied to parenting. In this specific context, it refes to parents'aptitude for understanding their child's and their own internal states (thoughts, feelings, intentions) and how these relate to the occurrence and reduction of externalizing child behavior problems. Our approach uses a serious game format, with interactive video feedback of prerecorded parent-child scenarios, to motivate parents to recognize and utilize the parental reflective function during parent-child interactions. In the first unit of the game developed in Phase I, titled In Touch: A Day in the Life, primary and foster parents work in pairs to learn to read and respond to a virtual parent's own and their child's internal states as they navigate a typical day of interactions fraught with possible friction, as presented in dramatized video segments. The game format is loosely based on the popular TV game show, Family Feud. In our version, parents will be paired into dyads-one foster and one primary parent. In the game, parents try to match the most frequent survey responses to questions regarding the parents'and child's internal states in the video segments. Answers to the survey will be generated by 20 experienced foster parents. Parents play the game and participate in the feasibility study at FosterParentCollege.com(R), an online training center developed by Northwest Media, Inc. via SBIR funding. Communication in each dyad will take place via a discussion board. We will carefully evaluate whether the serious game significantly improves parents'understanding of the reflective function, above and beyond what they would be expected to learn about it in a standard behavior management training program. Parents will be randomly assigned to teams, pairs, and experimental conditions. The treatment group will view a behavior management training as well as the serious game training, while the comparison group will view only the behavior management training. We will also complete the preliminary analysis of a central measure of the parental reflective function currently being developed in this field, the Parent Development Interview-Revised Short Version, which will be used in the Phase II study. In Phase II we will produce six additional training units of the game that covers: 1) Understanding and Addressing Children's Externalizing Behavior Problems;2) Reflective Function as Antidote to Addictions, Domestic Conflict, and Maternal Depression;3) Reflective Parenting and Emotional Scaffolding of Children;4) How In Touch Parenting Can Augment and Complement Other Training Approaches;5) A Primer for Children on Understanding and Articulating Their Inner World to Caregivers;and 6) Teaching Ancillary Professionals, Agency Staff, and Court Personnel About Reflective Parenting.
Subjects participating in this project will gain important information about parenting foster and primary children. The training may help them to better understand and parent children's externalizing behavior problems. As a result, the quality of parent-child relationships in foster and primary families could improve, as well as the stability o placements, the likelihood of a successful reunification with the primary family, and children's short- and long-term mental health outcomes.