KIPS Blog: Parenting Assessment in Practice & Research

How Can We Help Parents Cope with the Burden of Toxic Stress?

Posted by Marilee Comfort on Fri, Dec 06, 2019 @ 11:54 AM

Do the Holidays Bring Joy or Stress?

A little stress in life can be useful. It may motivate people to stop procrastinating, take better care of their health, or explore new opportunities. However, too often the lavishness of the holidays depicted in stores and in advertisements may bring families stress rather than joy. These messages may act as reminders of the stress from lack of food and clothing for their family, lack of safe, stable housing, insufficient health care, or violence in their family or neighborhood.  This stress for parents and children may grow heavier in the face of our society’s extravagant holiday glee.  Eventually, the accumulation of such burdens takes a toll on parents’ and children’s mental or physical health and well-being.  The continual weight can lead to toxic stress when powerful, frequent or ongoing harmful experiences trigger a person’s defenses to freeze, fight or flee.  Carrying this burden of toxic stress can be so overwhelming that it disrupts a family’s nurturance, their relationships and routines.

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Tags: parent-child relationship, engagement-parent, family, community, adverse experiences/toxic stress, family support-partnership-services, coping with stress

Protect Children, Reduce Impact of Neglect. Build Nurturing Parenting

Posted by Marilee Comfort on Wed, Feb 13, 2019 @ 12:21 PM

 Since 2017 we have been witnessing a devastating US practice of separating immigrant children from their families at the US-Mexico border.  In early February 2019, Dr. Jack Shonkoff stepped forward to testify to a U.S. Congressional committee that is investigating the response of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to this family separation policy  He explained that the trauma that can be caused by such forced family separation and the long-term effects of toxic stress will continue to accumulate until children and their parents/caregivers are reunited. His testimony presented the scientific evidence needed to analyze the effects of the family separation policy.  Dr. Shonkoff is a renowned pediatrician, researcher and the Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.  He went on to clarify:

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Tags: parent-child relationship, parenting assessments, child abuse/neglect prevention, adverse experiences/toxic stress, nurturing parenting

Oprah: A New ACEs Champion

Posted by Marilee Comfort on Tue, Mar 20, 2018 @ 02:08 PM

Oprah Discovers ACES!

Oprah has become a passionate champion for broadcasting the alarming impact of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). ACEs refers to the profound long-term impact that traumatic childhood experiences have on health and well-being. One could hardly find a more beloved TV/movie personality and billionaire to champion this long-overlooked cause! In a recent segment on the 60 Minutes television series

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Tags: Parenting Assessment, parent-child relationship, court involved, adverse experiences/toxic stress, ACE

Mindfulness Builds Positive Parenting for Moms in Opioid Use Treatment

Posted by Marilee Comfort on Wed, Nov 29, 2017 @ 12:59 PM

I’m delighted to share the results of a research study on a mindfulness-based parenting (MBP) intervention for mothers in treatment for opioid use disorders. With the abundance of news reports about the opioid epidemic, it’s heartening to share some good news regarding families affected by opioid misuse. This study is of special interest to me because it was carried out at the women’s substance abuse treatment center in Philadelphia where I worked for nine years.  As someone who formerly worked in this challenging field, I found this article inspiring. This relatively brief and inexpensive MBP group intervention produced an incredibly large change in the parenting behavior of mothers who struggled with multiple risk factors. 

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Tags: parenting behavior, mindfulness based parenting, adverse experiences/toxic stress, ACE, opioid addiction, opioid use treatment

Is ACEs Screening for Parents Helpful?

Posted by Marilee Comfort on Wed, May 11, 2016 @ 06:00 AM


This week we return to the topic of Adverse Childhood Experiences.  In our previous blog, we explored ACEs screening for children. What about ACEs screening for parents?

This is a question that I first heard when conducting an evaluation with a home visiting program for mothers and their children under 3 years old. The clinical staff had noted numerous traumatic childhood experiences reported during their conversations with participating mothers. Yet we had no group level information about how widespread these experiences were. The clinical staff decided to administer a structured screening inventory with each mother to describe the age and occurrence of traumatic experiences during childhood and adulthood. The results were astounding, and deeply troubled the clinical staff. 

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Tags: Parenting Assessment, parent-child relationship, adverse experiences/toxic stress, ACE

Adverse Childhood Experiences:  ACEs Screening for Children?

Posted by Marilee Comfort on Wed, Apr 27, 2016 @ 02:47 PM

The ACE studies have been at the forefront of nearly every early childhood conference I’ve attended for the past couple of years. ACE is an acronym for adverse childhood experiences, such as domestic violence, divorce, death of a parent, family members’ substance abuse or mental health challenges. These studies have raised our understanding of both the high prevalence and long-term consequences of adverse childhood experiences. Also, we’ve learned that children of various backgrounds and socio-economic levels can suffer adverse events.  We are now aware that ACEs may occur in families from all walks of life. The initial ACE study at the Kaiser Permanente HMO in California in the late 1990s demonstrated that nearly two-thirds of the 17,000 participants reported at least 1 ACE and one-fifth reported 3 or more ACEs. As the number of ACEs increased, so did the likelihood of showing unhealthy behaviors and negative physical and mental health outcomes as adults. Subsequent studies have shown similar results in multiple populations, raising alarming public health concerns. It is important to note that the initial ACE study was done with the general population of people receiving HMO care, without selection for risk factors.

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Tags: Parenting Assessment, protective factors, adverse experiences/toxic stress, ACE

Smart Start: News from the Cutting Edge of Child and Family Services

Posted by Marilee Comfort on Mon, May 12, 2014 @ 03:44 PM

My head is swirling!  I’ve just returned from another marvelous National Smart Start Conference sponsored by the North Carolina Partnership for Children. The 2014 Agenda offered 2 keynotes, 6 Featured Sessions, 76 workshops, and plenty of opportunities for networking.  There was something for everyone working in early childhood education and family support programs.  You can take a look at workshops offered within the following conference tracks by following these links below.  

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Tags: parenting outcomes, Parenting Assessment, Smart Start, adverse experiences/toxic stress

Home Visiting’s Role in Supporting Parents in Addressing Toxic Stress

Posted by Marilee Comfort on Wed, Jan 29, 2014 @ 09:30 AM

This week I’m going to the Fourth National Summit on Quality in Home Visiting Programs in Washington DC, sponsored by the Pew Trust and Every Child Succeeds.  Hundreds of  practitioners, model developers, researchers and policy makers are gathering to learn and share current experiences and program outcomes from the Maternal, Infant, Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV). I am excited to hear about innovations in the home visiting field.  We are all hopeful that the 2014 federal budget will continue to support and expand early learning and family support programs, and replace some of the funds lost during the 2013 sequester.

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Tags: Parenting Assessment, home visiting, adverse experiences/toxic stress

Parental Adversity, Brain Development & Early Intervention

Posted by Phil Gordon on Wed, Dec 04, 2013 @ 01:58 AM

Parents with current and past adversity may end up parenting in a way that poses a threat to the baby; this refers to all forms of maltreatment, and in turn the baby's entire neuro-hormonal system will adapt to its emotional environment creating structures and responses that become the foundation for future development.  Thus, “From a basic biological perspective, the child’s neuronal system – the structure and functioning of the developing brain – is shaped by the parent’s more mature brain” (Siegal, 1999:278).  Through early detection and intervention we can repair relationships and support parents in nurturing their children to promote healthy neurobiological development.

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Tags: Parenting Assessment, brain development, trauma, adverse experiences/toxic stress, child health,development, learning

Parenting’s Role in Combating Disparities in Health & Development

Posted by Phil Gordon on Fri, Dec 14, 2012 @ 03:58 PM


A recent article by Dr. Jack Shonkoff in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, entitled  Leveraging the Biology of Adversity to Address the Roots of Disparities in Health and Development  stresses the importance of parenting and the use of assessments in combating chronic medical and developm ental challenges for children at risk. 
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Tags: parenting outcomes, parenting behavior, Parenting Assessment, disparities, adverse experiences/toxic stress, child health,development, learning