Many babies in the UK are born to drug-dependent parents, and dependence on psychoactive drugs during the postnatal period is associated with high rates of child maltreatment, with around a quarter of these children being subject to a child protection plan. Parents who are dependent on psychoactive drugs are at risk of a wide range of parenting problems, and studies have found reduced sensitivity and responsiveness to both the infant’s physical and emotional needs. The poor outcomes that are associated with such drug dependency appear to be linked to the multiple difficulties experienced by such parents.
An increase in understanding about the crucial importance of early relationships for infant well-being has led to a focus on the development and delivery of services that are aimed at supporting parenting and parent–infant interactions. The Parents under Pressure (PuP) programme is aimed at supporting parents who are dependent on psychoactive drugs or alcohol by providing them with methods of managing their emotional regulation, and of supporting their new baby’s development. An evaluation of the PuP programme in Australia with parents on methadone maintenance of children aged 3 to 8 years found significant reductions in child abuse potential, rigid parenting attitudes and child behaviour problems.
The study comprises a multicentre randomised controlled trial using a mixed-methods approach to data collection and analysis in order to identify which families are most able to benefit from this intervention.
The study is being conducted in six family centres across the UK, and targets primary caregivers of children less than 2.5 years of age who are substance dependent. Consenting participants are randomly allocated to either the 20-week PuP programme or to standard care.
The primary outcome is child abuse potential, and secondary outcomes include substance use, parental mental health and emotional regulation, parenting stress, and infant/toddler socio-emotional adjustment scale.
This is one the first UK studies to examine the effectiveness of a programme targeting the parenting of substance-dependent parents of infants and toddlers, in terms of its effectiveness in improving the parent–infant relationship and reducing the potential for child abuse.
International Standard Randomised Controlled Trial Number Register: ISRCTN47282925