Risk Reduction Training for Youth in Care Improves Parenting Skills

In 2011, the Office of the Inspector General for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) developed a Risk Reduction Training for pregnant and parenting youth in care. The aim of the training is to reduce infant mortality among children born to youth in care and educate young parents about practicing safe sleep, safely caring for young children, and promoting healthy child development. The Teen Parent Services Network (TPSN), which oversees the provision of services and supports to pregnant and parenting youth in care throughout Illinois, is responsible for coordinating the training. All young parents in care are required to complete it. DCFS contracted with Chapin Hall to evaluate the training.

What We Did

  • We observed four training sessions between December 2018 and November 2019.
  • We administered a 15-item true/false questionnaire to participants before and after the training to see of their knowledge about the topics covered by the training increased.
  • We analyzed data provided by TPSN as well DCFS administrative data.
  • We interviewed four trainers, the training coordinator, and 14 pregnant or parenting youth.

What We Found

  • The training was completed by 57% (n = 756) of the 1,339 youth who were required to complete it, and females were about twice as likely to complete the training as males. Of those who completed the training, 58% had done so before their child was 3 months old.
  • Trainers did not always explain the purpose of the training, moved from one activity directly into another, and did not synthesize the material covered. Additionally, the same activities were facilitated differently by different trainers. Although young people who attended the trainings were generally engaged, participation in some activities was limited and some young people did not adhere to the ground rules.
  • We found a statistically significant increase in the number of items participants answered correctly, and the biggest increase at the item level was in the percentage of participants who correctly indicated that having blankets in a crib with their infant is unsafe.
  • Several of the young people we interviewed lacked a clear understanding of the training’s purpose and they came to the training with different expectations as to what would be covered. All but one reported learning valuable lessons about topics such as safe sleep and SIDS, shaken baby syndrome, choosing an appropriate caregiver and signs of abuse, and some reported being surprised by what they learned. Most of the young parents reported changing how they cared for their child as a result of the training.
  • Trainers agreed that engagement is key to a “good training” and described a number of strategies they use to engage youth. They also identified the number of participants and the dynamic that develops within the group as factors that affect engagement. Trainers also spoke about the challenges posed by participants’ need for childcare and the shortage of certified trainers who are willing to facilitate the trainings.
  • Contrary to expectations, we found that parents who completed the training were more likely to be the subject of child maltreatment investigation and more likely to have an indicated allegation of child abuse or neglect prior to their child’s first birthday than parents who did not complete the training. This could be due to pre-existing differences between the parents who did and did not complete the training.

What It Means

Our findings suggest DCFS should provide pregnant and parenting youth in care with more information about the training and why it is important for them to complete it. DCFS might also consider providing a financial incentive to youth who complete it. Our findings also suggest that trainers need additional preparation on how to facilitate the trainings and should consider arranging for childcare onsite.

Recommended Citation
Dworsky, A., & Gitlow, E. (2020). Evaluation of the risk reduction training for pregnant and parenting youth in care. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Evaluation of Risk Reduction Training Report