Innovative Wellness receives CDC funding to research child maltreatment interventions

December 19, 2022

As announced by VCU News, the Innovation in Child and Family Wellness Research group (Innovative Wellness) has recently received a three-year grant from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to test the effectiveness of Safe Environment for Every Kid (SEEK), an intervention program that aims to prevent child maltreatment and promote family self-sufficiency. Dr. Sunny Shin, director of the Innovative Wellness research group, will serve as principal investigator for this upcoming study. 

Child maltreatment includes deliberate and intentional acts of commission (physical, sexual, or emotional abuse) or omission (neglect) such as failure to provide or failure to supervise, which results in harm or potential for harm to a child. The adverse impacts of child maltreatment on individuals’ health and well-being presents a substantial economic burden for social service and health care systems in the US.

SEEK was developed at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Division of Child Protection. Ultimately, the program aims to “Build caregiver-pediatric healthcare provider relationships, strengthen families, support parents, and thereby promote children's health, development, and safety.” The SEEK model puts forth several core components, which begin with a self-paced online training for primary healthcare providers. Further, parents respond to a survey that screens for specific psychosocial problems that may lead to child maltreatment. SEEK algorithms then use survey data to target core issues that families may be facing, allowing practitioners to offer support and resources that target families’ specific needs. The SEEK model has already been researched in both urban low-income and suburban settings, and Innovative Wellness’ grant from the CDC and VDH will aid in further research about the effectiveness of the program in Virginia. 

Using a combination of medical records, administrative data, and survey data, Innovative Wellness will conduct a cluster randomized controlled trial (RCT) that will evaluate the impact of the SEEK model and resource support on child maltreatment and injury prevention and referral connections. In this study, Innovative Wellness will sample from families with children between the ages of 0-5 years whose information will be collected at baseline and 6-, 18-, and 36-month follow-ups. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) will be identified and evaluated from three sources: Child Protective Services (CPS) involvement, child’s medical chart, and the parent survey. An evaluation staff will then use this data to assess a child’s history of maltreatment. 

Further, a final component of this study will measure the strength of the referral connections that SEEK aims to provide for families in need. Specifically, the number of sustained community referral connections will be measured at the 6-month follow-up.

SEEK’s multifaceted program foundationally intends to reduce child maltreatment as a means to reduce the effect that it may have on overall health. Child maltreatment has been consistently linked to medical problems, addictive behaviors, and mental health problems with altered stress responses and shortened lifespan. Ultimately, child maltreatment can have long term, negative effects on an individual’s overall health outcomes. 

“ACEs are one of the leading causes of injury and death among children in our country. If this project is successful, we are proposing it to be the statewide model for preventing child maltreatment and ACEs,” said Shin. “This project does not stop when our research ends. It could potentially lead to major policy and program change in Virginia when it comes to primary prevention of adverse childhood experiences and injury.”

This partnership between Innovative Wellness and VDH will support crucial intervention strategies to help mitigate the long-term effects of ACEs. “Inevitably, a project such as SEEK is a work in progress,” writes the SEEK website. “Considerable progress had been made identifying abused and neglected children, but much room remained (and remains) for preventing maltreatment – before it occurs.”

Additional partners in this study include the American Academy of Pediatrics Virginia Chapter. You can learn more about SEEK at this link