Child abuse prevention professionals concerned about whether collecting biospecimens, such as hair or saliva, from at-risk mothers would discourage them from finishing parenting programs should not worry, according to a study by researchers at the Georgia State University School of Public Health.
The study showed that “while uncomfortable, biospecimen collection will not impede research participation.”
Child abuse prevention programs teaching parents positive child management skills already see low engagement and retention rates, the researchers noted. But the collection of biospecimens from mothers at high risk of child maltreatment could provide greater insight into how stress and trauma affect health and inform ways to measure whether behavioral programs are effective, they said.
During the study, the mothers provided samples — hair, saliva and DNA from cheek swabs — to assess the presence of stress in their bodies, including levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The mothers were also interviewed about how they felt about providing the biospecimen samples.
The study involved 12 mothers who were deemed at high risk for child maltreatment and were involved in SafeCare, an evidence-based home visitation program that has been proven to reduce child abuse and neglect. The mothers were African-American adults, had an average of two or more children and had been exposed to more than one traumatic life event, with moderate posttraumatic stress symptoms.
The results showed that 75 percent of the study participants completed the entire study, including the collection of biospecimens.
The study’s results are published in The American Journal of Family Therapy in the article “Feasibility of Biological Sample Collection among a High-Risk Maternal Population for Child Maltreatment-Qualitative Pilot Findings.” The study’s authors are Dr. Ashwini Tiwari, a 2016 PhD graduate of Georgia State’s School of Public Health who is now a postdoctoral research associate at McMaster University in Canada, and Dr. Shannon Self-Brown, professor of health promotion and behavior at Georgia State.
While some of the collection methods “provided discomfort,” the mothers involved in the study were amenable to participating in similar research in the future, the researchers said.
To combat the awkwardness of biospecimen collection, the researchers recommended that child abuse prevention professionals “highlight connections between biology and behaviors to motivate parents and increase engagement in parenting programs.”