Among school-age children, disruptive behavior is the most common reason for referral to mental health services (Sopko, 2006). Disruptive behavior refers to problematic behavior such as aggression, noncompliance, and impulsivity (Hunter, 2003); disruptive disorders "include conditions involving problems in the self-control of emotions and behaviors" (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) and pose a problem to students and schools alike. In regard to the individual student, disruptive behavior, if left untreated, can develop into more serious conduct problems (Barton, 2003) and early withdrawal from school (Vitaro, Brendgen, & Tremblay, 1999). On a school-wide level, disruptive behavior may promote an environment in which students become fearful and unable to learn and staff becomes mentally stressed, unable to teach with optimum effectiveness. Indeed, researchers have found that a positive disciplinary climate is linked to high achievement. Unfortunately, compared to white students, students of color report that their learning is adversely affected by the disruptive behaviors of their peers (Barton, 2003). Youth living in low-income urban communities are disproportionately impacted by disruptive behaviors (at home, at school, or in the community), with rates almost three times higher than national averages (Atkins et al., 2006).
Particularly for low-income ethnic minority urban children, structured parenting practices--involving clear rules and close monitoring--become a critical ingredient for resilience (Brotman et al., 2011; Roche, Ensminger, & Cherlin, 2007). One study found that chronic poverty affected child behavioral problems indirectly, and parenting practices had direct effects on white, black and Latinx families (Pachter, Auinger, Palmer, & Weitzman, 2006). A study of low-income urban families found that Latina mothers reported the cultural value of respeto (respect) as a core parenting practice in instilling obedience in their children; this may be incongruent with the U.S. cultural value of independence (Calzada, Fernandez, & Cortes, 2010). Another study found that ethnic minority parents (including African American, Latinx, and Asian American parents) indicated a greater general emphasis on their children exercising self-control and succeeding in school than Caucasian parents (Julian, McKenry, & McKelvey, 1994).
Permissive parenting styles may be less risky for children raised in middle-class white families than for children in low-income ethnic minority families living in urban communities (Roche et al., 2007). Even though a hierarchical parenting style (in which parents hold authority and family rules are set by parents and not by consensus) was associated with externalizing behaviors for white families, this was not the case for Latinx families (Lindahl & Malik, 1999). In fact, in child-rearing practices among Latinx families, parents tend to be dominant, combining enforcement of rules and positive affect (Halgunseth, Ispa & Rudy, 2006). Having a more dominant authoritative parenting style (as opposed to a permissive parenting style) was associated with more positive child outcomes in urban Latina/o families (Jabagchourian, Sorkhabi, Quach, & Strage, 2014). Despite the increased risk factors of community violence, poverty, and other stressors associated with living in urban settings (Cooley-Strickland et al., 2009) and their negative impact on parenting (Ceballo & McLoyd, 2002), supportive families and schools are associated with positive outcomes (Roche et al., 2007).
The literature shows that family systems-level interventions are safer and more effective than child therapy approaches for improving student disruptive behavior, particularly among low-income ethnic minority urban children. First, Chorpita and Daleiden (2007) found that Parent Management Training was one of six interventions demonstrating best support as an effective intervention for disruptive behavior with the strongest evidence of effectiveness. Second, a meta-analysis found that effect sizes were nearly double for parent training (0.45) compared to individual child therapy (0.23) in terms of child behavior outcomes (Carr, 2009). The underlying mechanisms are not clear but there appears to be evidence that individual child counseling may increase rather than decrease child behavior problems (Atkins et al., 2006; Hunter, 2003). In a review, Chorpita and Daleiden (2007) found that group therapy treatment approaches for disruptive behavior demonstrated negative effects. Individual child therapy, not family interventions, continues to be the most commonly provided service by school mental health practitioners (Sopko, 2006).
Providing family systems-level interventions in schools makes sense because families are more likely to participate in mental health services in this universal setting rather than in traditional clinic settings that are potentially more closely associated with stigma (Atkins et al., 2006; Jaycox et al., 2010). However, both agency-based and school-based children's mental health providers reported great difficulty engaging families in children's mental health treatment (Langley, Nadeem, Kataoka, Stein, & Jaycox, 2010; Sopko, 2006). Low-income urban families tended to have a 48- to 62-percent rate of failure to attend initial children's mental health appointments and tended to terminate treatment either week 4 or week 11 of treatment (McKay & Bannon, 2004). One study about family engagement and retention in children's mental health care in urban clinics found that the average length of treatment was between five to seven sessions (McKay, Nudelman, McCadam, & Gonzales, 1996). A recent review of Latinx families' engagement and retention in child therapy services found that Latina/o families were more likely to terminate treatment early than non-Hispanic white families (Kapke & Gerdes, 2016). Furthermore, when Latinx families do remain in mental health treatment, there is evidence that Latinx parents demonstrate lower participatory behaviors in therapy sessions than their non-Latinx counterparts (Dickson, Zeedyk, Martinez, & Haine-Schlagel, 2017).
A short-term intervention in which families experience child behavior improvement by week 4 is desirable (McKay & Bannon, 2004; McKay et al., 1996). In addition to concerns about providing interventions that help families change disruptive behavior among children, affordability and cost effectiveness are crucial, especially in low-income urban communities (Brotman et al., 2011; Walker, Golly, McLane, & Kimmich, 2005). Further, the literature shows that certain parental behavior skills--support, monitoring, and discipline--are linked to positive child development and well-being (Amato & Fowler, 2002); these skills may be taught in a short-term intervention. Indeed, there is an increasing demand for evidence-based interventions that are cost effective and not burdensome to implement (Brotman et al., 2011; Walker et al., 2005).
The present study examines the feasibility and impact of a short-term school-based parenting intervention for children ages five to eleven. The intervention teaches parents to improve child behaviors at home and at school. The Back to Basics Parenting intervention is expected to have a positive correlation with the proximal targets of social, academic, home, and school attendance behavior.
Parents were invited to participate in the parenting intervention through letters sent home with all students. In addition, parents of students with three or more office disciplinary referrals were encouraged to participate via additional telephone outreach or...