Changing lives one family at a time

Personal journey inspires program to reduce child maltreatment, domestic violence

Wednesday, Nov 15, 2023 • Neph Rivera : contact

UTA School of Social Work Assistant Professor Saltanat Childress" _languageinserted="true

Before shifting her career to helping others in the field of social work, Assistant Professor Saltanat Childress was a trained concert pianist in her native Kyrgyzstan. But she was compelled to make a change after she saw firsthand how women and children were impacted during a time of turmoil for her country.

“The needs of women and children in my society became quite stark after the breakup of the Soviet Union,” she said. “Families experienced poverty, ethnic conflicts and a lack of social services necessary to support them during the transition to becoming an independent country.”

Childress is confident that her current research can make a difference in the lives of those in Kyrgyzstan and put families on a path to a brighter future by preventing and reducing adverse childhood experiences, including maltreatment and domestic violence.

The project, titled “Integrating Evidence-based Approaches to Prevent Child Maltreatment in Kyrgyzstan,” will test a new type of intervention that links three approaches through school-based delivery:

  • strengthening family processes
  • improving co-parenting and father involvement
  • building financial capability and assets

“This project is both a product of my personal journey as a mother and immigrant from Kyrgyzstan and my research journey,” Childress said. “I grew up there and witnessed these problems in the culture and how detrimental they were to women’s and children’s lives.”

The five-year project is being funded by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and continues through 2027. It consists of 16-week sessions for elementary school-aged children and their parents. During the first hour, children and parents attend separate skill-building sessions. They spend the second hour together reinforcing the skills during supervised family activities.

Childress notes that these approaches have shown to be effective on their own. This project combines them into one package to maximize the impact on families.

“We expect that the results will show effectiveness in reducing multiple risks for family violence and child maltreatment, which are unfortunately quite prevalent in Kyrgyzstan,” she said.

Childress believes there is potential to adapt the program to be taught in schools since those are vital contacts between children, their families and other service institutions. She also hopes to replicate the program so it can be applied to cultures around the world, including the United States, making a difference in families’ lives beyond her home country.

“Family violence and child maltreatment are present in every culture and country around the world, regardless of income level, ethnicity, or social group, and they are often hiding in plain sight,” she said. “We need to develop the implementation pathways to institutionalize these programs at a much larger scale if we are to really move the needle on these issues.”