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Federal Grant Expands Parent-Child Assistance Program

October 17, 2023

Federal Grant Expands Parent-Child Assistance Program

Baby swaddled in mother's arms

Researchers at the University of Oklahoma have received a nearly $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families to expand the Parent‐Child Assistance Program. The project will support efforts to create foster care prevention programs in a new clearinghouse established as part of 2018 federal legislation, The Family First Prevention Services Act.

Erin Maher, associate professor of sociology in the Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences, will lead the project alongside OU professors Julie Gerlinger and Deven Carlson and Susan Stoner, director of the Washington PCAP program and a research associate professor at the Addictions, Drug and Alcohol Institute at the University of Washington.

“The goal of the FFPSA legislation was to get more interventions like PCAP in place and incentivize states to use them,” Maher said. “I think the fact that so few children have been served under this legislation speaks to the state of research evidence in child welfare. We hope to change that.”

An initial three-year program began in 2021 with sites in Oklahoma City and Tulsa to examine the impact of the program on treatment and recovery, connection to needed services and reduction in future substance-exposed newborns, as well as reductions in foster care and criminal justice involvement. This new funding will allow Maher’s group to expand into the Enid, OK area and test a shorter version of the program, something policymakers have wanted to see. Additionally, because they already have a control group from the original study, all the new participants recruited for the study will receive the PCAP intervention.

“This study will allow us to evaluate the effects of a one-year program compared to the original three-year program, which could reduce costs for program participation while also producing similarly positive outcomes,” said Julie Gerlinger, PCAP project statistician and OU assistant professor of sociology. “If this is the case, the one-year version of PCAP may be a more desirable model for state-wide implementation, which would allow for more people struggling with substance use during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth to receive the help they need.” 

“We’re also changing the measurement timeline so that we will get 12-month results for everyone enrolled. That will allow us to directly compare results from the new study of PCAP participants to the 12-month outcomes in our original trial and our control group,” Maher added. “That should also help us answer the empirical questions: Can the PCAP program be as effective with women during a one-year service period as it is with a three-year period; and if not, what are the tradeoffs in terms of cost and benefits?”

Deven Carlson, Presidential Research Professor in the OU Department of Political Science, will lead the team’s effort to develop a cost-benefit analysis of the one-year and three-year results. Their findings could give policymakers multiple options to implement based on local or regional needs.

Maher also hopes to develop a national training and implementation center to promote scaling and replicating this program in other states. Additionally, if the program receives a rating of “high evidence” from the FFPSA clearinghouse or other governing bodies, states can draw down federal funds to implement the PCAP model.

“We hope to see results that prove PCAP makes a difference in people’s and children’s lives,” Maher said. “We know there’s a need nationally and think this program can help so many individuals.”

To learn more about the PCAP program or refer yourself or someone else who might benefit, visit or call 405-876-2095.

“This project is supported by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) of the United States (U.S) Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of the financial assistance award (Award #: 90FA3011-01-00 ) totaling $1,488,511 with 100 percent funded by ACF/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACF/HHS or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit the ACF website, Administrative and National Policy Requirements.” Erin Maher is the principal investigator. She is an associate professor of sociology in the Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences and serves as the senior associate director for the Data Institute for Societal Challenges at OU.