Pitt Early Steps Pilot Study

  • Funding Source: The National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health
  • Years of Funding: 2000-2007
  • Investigators: Daniel Shaw, PI; Tom Dishion; Frances Gardner; Melvin Wilson
The goal of this study is to test a family-based preventive intervention with two-year-old children at risk for developing significant conduct problems. Prior longitudinal research has found that early-starter children demonstrate the most chronic and severe forms of antisocial behavior. The Early Steps Pilot Study examined whether a developmentally-based, ecologically sensitive intervention initiated during the toddler period could help to prevent trajectories of antisocial behavior. The intervention was initiated at age 2 before the child’s and family’s behaviors are less malleable to change. The current project tests the efficacy of Dishion’s Family Check Up (FCU) intervention with a group of 120 extreme-risk families with toddler-age boys recruited from Women Infant, and Children (WIC) sites in Pittsburgh, PA. All families met the criteria for extreme-risk status based on the presence of multiple child, parent, and sociodemographic risk factors. The FCU intervention is based on well-established evidence and incorporates novel preventive strategies using Shaw and Gardner’s developmentally based research. Children have been assessed at ages 2, 3, 4, and 5.5-6. Families in the intervention group have been offered intervention services at ages 2, 4, and 5.5-6. Results of the study provide support for the efficacy of the FCU with families of toddlers at-risk for early-starting pathways of antisocial behavior. Improvements in maternal involvement and decreases in children’s use of physical aggression have been found for those in treatment group at age 4, with similar improvements in positive parenting and reductions in child destructive behavior at age 3. In addition, despite the brief number of sessions parent consultants had with families at age 2 (x = 3.26), the intervention was effective in reducing destructive behavior for children if they had high initial levels of inhibition and/or their mothers displayed increased depressive symptoms.