The Children’s Trust Honors Mailman Center’s Parent-Child Interaction Therapy Program

An innovative Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) service offered by the University of Miami Mailman Center for Child Development has been honored as “2016 Program of the Year” by The Children’s Trust, a Miami-Dade funding organization that promotes the physical and emotional well-being of children.

The free PCIT program focuses on teaching parents and other caregivers how to enhance their relationships with young children, age 2 to 7, and reduce problem behaviors at home, school, and in public places. Launched in 2011, the evidence-based program serves more than 100 families a year, and has a wait list for services, according to program director Jason Jent, Ph.D., assistant professor of clinical pediatrics.

The Children’s Trust’s annual awards honor individuals and programs that have “achieved greatness in their service to children and families,” according to a recent announcement. The awards will be presented on August 25 at the 11th Annual Champions for Children Awards Ceremony at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

“We are so proud that The Children’s Trust has chosen to recognize the PCIT program,” said Daniel Armstrong, Ph.D., professor and Executive Vice Chair of Pediatrics, Director of the Mailman Center for Child Development, and interim Senior Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs. “But we also know that this is just the beginning of efforts to translate an academic center-based and evidence-based program to the broader South Florida community using innovative approaches and hard work.”

Since the late 1990s and the U.S. Surgeon General’s report on Children’s Mental Health, finding ways to bring effective behavioral health treatment to children has been a high priority, added Armstrong. “PCIT is a great example of a highly effective program.”

Observing from behind a one-way mirror, a PCIT therapist coaches the parent through a wireless headphone on specific ways of increasing positive interactions and managing a child’s behavior. Then, parents practice these techniques with the guided coaching of the therapist, resulting in increased parental confidence in managing their child’s behaviors, Jent said.

“We help parents build on their strengths,” Jent said. “I remember a family that was having a difficult time connecting to their child with an autism spectrum disorder. During PCIT treatment, the child actually sat on the parent’s lap to play for the first time ever. Outcomes like that make the entire program very rewarding to our team.” The Mailman Center PCIT staff includes five therapists and six University of Miami students who develop their clinical skills while providing client services.

One of the innovative aspects of the PCIT programs is that treatment lasts as long as necessary — typically from 12 to 30 weekly sessions — until parents master communication and discipline skills with their children.

To help parents maintain those skills after sessions, the Mailman Center team developed Pocket PCIT, an interactive e-book and iPad tablet that parents can use at home. It includes videos demonstrating positive parenting skills as well as examples and explanations, providing an ongoing resource.

“We have very good success in keeping families in the program and more than 85 percent of families that enter treatment complete the PCIT program,” Jent said. “Those who finish the program show significant improvements in parenting skills and a reduction in parenting stress. In addition, many parents report their child’s levels of anxiety and depression go down and they are better able to control their emotions.”

The UM PCIT program is funded by The Children’s Trust, a dedicated source of revenue established by voter referendum to improve the lives of children and families in Miami-Dade. The Children’s Trust emphasizes collaboration and partnership in order to provide the programs and services needed by children and families, and to effect community-wide change.

Since its inception, The Children’s Trust has encouraged creative approaches to coordinating, integrating and funding services across and within the areas of health, safety, and early development, and to promote increased parental and community involvement on behalf of all children, while stressing accountability and results.

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