Highlights in child mental health research: March 2019

Prepared by AIFS, March 2019

Resource Summary

This research summary provides a selection of recently released papers, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses related to infant and child mental health.

Each article is accompanied by a brief synopsis that highlights the key messages of the paper. Links to abstracts, full-text articles and related resources, where available, are provided.

This month’s Research Highlights includes a range of articles related to the delivery of services to children and families, including prevention, intervention, implementation and evaluation.  These articles include a noteworthy review paper by Lechowicz and colleagues (2019), published in the Australian Psychologist, which provides six broad policy and practice recommendations for enhancing father engagement in parenting interventions.

For a helpful and practical guide to the design, implementation and evaluation of interventions, you may wish to review the research paper by Dickerson and colleagues (2019), which is based on the learnings from the Better Start Bradford program in the UK.  This paper also highlights a series of practical operational guides and toolkits that aim to support organisations through the implementation and evaluation of interventions.

This month’s Research Highlights also contains a range of interesting and emerging topics in the area of children’s mental health, including an Australia study by King and colleagues (2019) that found that egalitarian gender-role attitudes were associated with better overall mental health for adolescents.


Associations between gender-role attitudes and mental health outcomes in a nationally representative sample of Australian adolescents (Australia)

Authors:  King, T. L., Singh, A., Milner, A.

Journal:  The Journal of Adolescent Health

This study utilised data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children to explore associations between gender-role attitudes and mental health in Australian adolescents.  Participants were 3,059 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15 years. King and colleagues (2019) found that egalitarian gender-role attitudes were associated with:

  • fewer conduct problems for adolescents (both females and males)
  • less hyperactivity for females; and
  • better overall mental health for adolescents.

The findings suggest that promoting egalitarian gender attitudes may have positive benefits for mental health in Australian adolescents.

Find the abstract here.


Temporal effects of maternal psychological distress on child mental health problems at ages 3, 5, 7 and 11: Analysis from the UK Millennium Cohort Study (United Kingdom)

Authors:  Hope, S., Pearce, A., Chittleborough, C., Deighton, J., Maika, A., Micali, N., Mittinty, M., Law, C., Lynch, J.

Journal:  Psychological Medicine

The UK Millennium Cohort Study is an observational study that was created to follow the lives of children born at the turn of the century. It consists of a nationally representative UK sample. The current study used this UK population cohort to examine the association between maternal psychological distress and child mental health problems.

The study found a strong association between non-clinical levels of maternal distress and child mental health problems between the ages of 3-11 years. This suggests that exposure to maternal psychological distress may have the potential to adversely affect children’s mental health.

The aforementioned finding, combined with the fact that psychological distress is more common in women of child-bearing age than serious mental health problems, suggests that greater identification and support of mothers experiencing psychological distress may also positively impact on children’s mental health (Hope et al., 2019).

Find the full text here.


Enhancing father engagement in parenting programs: Translating research into practice recommendations (Australia)

Authors:  Lechowicz, M. E., Jiang, Y., Tully, L. A., Burn, M. T., Collins, D. A. J., Hawes, D. J., Lenroot, R. K., Anderson, V., Doyle, F. L., Piotrowska, P. J., Frick, P. J., Moul, C., Kimonis, E. R., Dadds, M. R.

Journal:  Australian Psychologist

Engaging fathers and father-inclusive practice are topics of increasing interest for practitioners, researchers and policy-makers. Given the growing level of attention in these areas, Lechowicz and colleagues (2019) sought to review the existing research on enhancing father engagement in parenting interventions for children’s wellbeing.

The overall aim was to translate the research literature into a series of evidence-based policies and practices for practitioners and organisations. This process resulted in six broad policy and practice recommendations for enhancing father engagement in interventions for children’s wellbeing. The recommendations proposed by Lechowicz and colleagues (2019) were:

  • Engaging fathers as co-parents.
  • Replacing a deficit model of fathers with a positive focus on fathers.
  • Increasing fathers’ knowledge and awareness of parenting programs.
  • Ensuring that content and delivery of interventions also meets the needs/preferences of fathers.
  •  Increasing organisational support for father engagement.
  • Providing training for practitioners on facilitating father-inclusive practice.

Find the full text here.


Family-focused public health: Supporting homes and families in policy and practice (USA)

Authors:  Hanson, C. L., Crandall, A., Barnes, M. D., Magnusson, B., Lelinneth, M., Novilla, B., King, J.

Journal:  Frontiers in Public Health

This article presents the scientific evidence for adopting a family-focused approach to prevention and intervention, including at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Carl and colleagues (2019) also present four ‘family impact principles’ intended to help guide planning and implementation decisions to foster family engagement in public health:

  • Family engagement – This principle requires practitioners to form ‘strong partnerships between their programming and families, including involving families as stakeholders in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of programs’ (p. 4)
  • Family responsibility – This principle requires practitioners to plan and deliver ‘programming that supports and empowers families in performing traditional functions that they should complete across diverse family structures’ (p. 4)
  • Family stability – This principle requires that practitioners plan and deliver programs that foster ‘balance within the family’, as well as recognise ‘the importance of family relationships to individual family functioning and health’ (p. 4)
  • Family diversity – This principle requires practitioners to understand that ‘interventions can have varied effects on different types of families and that family types are of increasing variety and importance in the twenty-first century’ (p. 4).

Importantly, Carl and colleagues (2019) highlight that these guiding principles should be applied based on the individual context of each community or population.

Find the full text here.


Integrating research and system-wide practice in public health: Lessons learnt from Better Start Bradford (UK)

Authors:  Dickerson, J., Bird, P. K., Bryant, M., Dharni, N., Bridges, S., Willan, K., Ahern, S., Dunn, A., Nielsen, D., Uphoff, E. P., Bywater, T., Bowyer-Crane, C., Sahota, P., Small, N., Howell, M., Thornton, G., Pickett, K. E., McEachan, R. R. C., Wright, J., on behalf of Better Start Bradford and the Better Start Bradford Innovation Hub.

Journal: BMC Public Health

Better Start Bradford is a programme that aims to deliver ‘multiple complex community interventions to improve the health, wellbeing and development of children aged 0–3 years’ (p. 1). This paper is based on the learnings from the Better Start Bradford program in the United Kingdom. It offers a guide to assist researchers, public health commissioners and service providers to work collaboratively to evaluate interventions, including to learn, evaluate and improve their service delivery (Dickerson et al., 2019).

The paper also highlights a series of practical operational guides and toolkits that were developed by Better Start Bradford ‘to support organisations through the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of interventions’ (Better Start Bradford, 2019).  Each guide seeks to support a different stage of the process.

Find the Better Start Bradford guides and toolkits here.

Find the full text here.

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