ABC Intervention program helps Kansas families

Amina Seck
August 26, 2019

Investing in home visiting programs helps Kansas parents gain skills to support children’s development. While Kansas has several home visiting programs, five Kansas-based foundations are working together to pilot the evidence-based Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-Up (ABC) Intervention training program in our state.

Home visiting programs, which are voluntary, teach parents knowledge and skills about child development, stress management, and other techniques for nurturing children. As the name suggests, the programs take place in a home setting, creating a comfortable environment for parents and children.[1] While home visiting approaches would be beneficial for every Kansas family, currently only families that meet specific criteria are eligible. The criteria could include income level or whether the family has children with special needs.

Research shows that these investments lead to better outcomes for Kansas families.[2] The outcomes include preventing child maltreatment, supporting positive parenting, improving maternal and child health, and promoting child development and school readiness.[3]

Home visiting programs can be particularly beneficial for low-income families. Extreme financial and emotional adversity can make it more difficult for them to provide needed care for their babies and toddlers.[4] Financial instability often leads families to live in unsafe environments,[5] and this can cause children to develop toxic levels of stress.[6]

A growing body of research indicates children with chronic stress are in a continuous “state of high alert and brain development can be severely limited.”[7] If children with chronic stress do not receive the help they need, they may be more likely to use public assistance, have poor health outcomes, and be involved in the criminal justice system.[8] Home visiting programs such as ABC Intervention can share stress management techniques with families to reduce toxic stress.

The ABC Intervention pilot program specifically focuses on training parent coaches who work with caregivers to offset the negative effects of early toxic stress[9] and lead children to a successful future.[10] The ABC Intervention program trains parent coaches to deliver stress management techniques to caregivers through 10 sessions in a home setting. Currently, the program is operating in 35 counties. The pilot, with the goal to prevent maltreatment and neglect, focuses on parents with infants ages 6 to 24 months.

ABC Intervention buffers against the detrimental effects of toxic stress on child development through four important strategies:

  1. Nurture: Caregivers will respond to children when they fall or are in distress by comforting and reassuring the child, instead of expecting the child to deal with the pain.
  2. Following the lead: A child is the leader and parents are the followers. For example, if a child has a book and give it to the parent, the parent must do what the child wants, in this case open the book and read to the child.
  3. Delight: Caregivers will use words and expressions to demonstrate positive emotion.
  4. Avoiding Frightening Behaviors: Playing with children in an aggressive way may seem innocent to parents, but it can frighten, frustrate or agitate the child. Caregivers need to observe if the child enjoys the play or not.

Midway through the pilot program in Kansas,[11] the ABC Intervention program is already demonstrating a positive impact. Through the course of the pilot, roughly 1,500 families will be served. One Kansas parent from the pilot said the program gave her the skills needed to follow her daughter’s lead in activities, provide nurturing, and better understand a child’s signals of distress, which helped her relax as a mother.[12] 

To help every Kansas family strengthen parenting skills and reduce toxic stress, policymakers can expand the reach of home visiting programs by investing. By introducing pilot programs like the ABC Intervention program, Kansas has an opportunity to identify programs that ensure that infants and toddlers with toxic stress receive the support that they need to be prepare for a successful future.

[1] Supple, Lauren. “5 Things to Know About Early Childhood Home Visiting.” Child Trends, 2016.

[2] “The Benefits of Home Visiting Program.” Kansas Action for Children, 2018.

[3] “The Benefits of Home Visiting Program.” Kansas Action for Children, 2018.

[4] Fact Sheet. “ABC: An Evidence-Based Intervention to address Infant/Toddler Toxic Stress.” United Methodist Health Ministry Fund.

[5] Sandstorm, Heather and Huerta, Sandra. “The Negative Effects of Instability on Child Development: A Research Synthesis.” Urban Institute, 2013.

[6] “The Impact of Early Adversity on Child Development.” Center on the Development Child Harvard University, 2007.

[7] Jordan, David. “Testimony to House K-12 Education Budget Committee.” United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, March 6, 2018.

[8] Skellenger, Wendy. “Kansas ABC Program Making Tales of Success in First Year.” Hutchinson Community Foundation a Partner in Science-Based Early Childhood Initiative, 2018.

[9] Dozier, Mary, “Offsetting Toxic by Training Parents of Infants and Young Children in Foster Care: The ABC Program Operating in 11 States.” Wisconsin Family Impact Seminars, 2015.

[10] “Neuro-Nurture: Building a Strong Kansas Through Science-Based Early Intervention.” United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, 2018.

[11] “KU Researchers Seek to Combat ‘Stress Hormone’ in Children in Adverse Family Situations.” University of Kansas, 2018.

[12] Skellenger, Wendy. Kansas ABC Program Making Tales of Success in First Year.” Hutchinson Community Foundation a Partner in Science-Based Early Childhood Initiative, 2018.