Home counseling may prevent parents from becoming abusive, a recent study by a UCSB professor says.

Seven thousand, four hundred ninety-eight cases of child abuse were reported in Santa Barbara County last year, some of which, based on a recent study by UCSB professor Daphne Bugental, might have been prevented with home counseling.

Bugental, along with Anna Kokotovic, the executive director of Child Abuse Listening Mediation (CALM) and Nathan O’ Hara, a program administrator for the Office of Family Violence Protection, started in 1994 and ended their study last year.

They concluded that at-risk families who received counseling at home were less likely to have an abusive parent than those who did not receive regular visits from counselors.

The study split 72 families into two groups, one that did not receive home visits and one that did. Twenty-five percent of the group that did not receive visits from home counselors had an abusive parent, while only four percent of the group who received home visitations had an abusive parent.

“We’re looking to see what’s going on and how much abuse is occurring in comparison between the two groups,” Bugental said.

The county-wide prevention program selected families who were at a moderate risk for child abuse, including families with high stress levels, economic hardships, children with disabilities, single parents and multiple births.

“We want to show that home visitations are successful at preventing abuse with these particular kinds of children who pose more problems to their parents,” Bugental said.

CALM hired, trained, and oversaw the implementation of the program in the community. CALM workers who served as home visitors monitored the child’s health, development and the dynamics in the family to make sure that they were connected wit h other social services.

“[CALM] has comprehensive programs to deal with all issues of child abuse and neglect,” Kokotovic said. “We evaluate the intensity of each family and our program is tailored to meet the needs of the individuals.”

O’Hara said Santa Barbara County is trying to teach people how to raise children. According to the Children Score Card 2000, 7,498 cases of child abuse were reported in the county from July 1, 1999-June 30, 2000. The number of reported abuse increased one percent from 1998-1999 to 2000, but it has decreased overall since 1996 by about 1,500 cases.

“There’s some mixed results from these sorts of programs,” O’Hara said. “Our program has success for some reason so it really does matter who you hire for the program and the relationship between the families and home visitors.”

Bugental said the number of reported cases is high because many parents are not fully aware that infant spanking and shaking, which can be fatal, are considered child abuse, and will openly admit to these practices.

“[Because of this] we focus on parent education, enforcing the importance to build social support networks, teach parents how to make use of other people, [including] their friends, agencies and we also teach anger management,” Bugental said. “It’s one of these things; as a researcher, we study lots of questions and analyze the results, but what is particularly gratifying is when the changes you’re producing are actually saving children’s lives and helping their health on a long-term basis.”

O’Hara said this study has been successful because they involved the fathers in the process.

“I have a feeling that involving the father is a key piece and should be involved in the solution to child abuse,” he said.[b1]

The three founders of the program have started a new study called Great Beginnings, which will replicate the Family Program in some ways. The new study is funded by the Offices of Child Abuse Prevention under the State Department of Social Service.

The Family Thriving Program is another new project focused on decreasing the amount of child abuse in domestic households.

“[Family Program’s] main goal was to lower [child abuse] rates,” Bugental said. “Its what we did before and that’s what we’re hoping to do again.”