Public Release: 

Internet & telephone assisted training for child disruptive behavior found to be effective

Increasing evidence after two-year follow-up highlights the value of training parents and identifying children at risk in the community earlier


Washington, DC, September 4, 2018 - Positive long-term outcomes, such as a reduction in child disruptive behavior and increased parental skills, have been reported in a new study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP). For a large number of families, screened from the general population, internet- and telephone-assisted trainings that target disruptive behavior in children at age 4 decreases the likelihood of such disruptive behavior occurring. The program was effective 24 months after initiation.

Preschool children with disruptive behavior show significant functional impairment at home, daycare, school and in community settings. A number of studies have shown that this type of behavior has untoward, long-term, harmful consequences, including mental and physical health problems, crime, substance abuse, and increased risk of suicidality later in life. Untreated disruptive behavior disorders are some of the most costly early childhood psychiatric disorders. Parent training is one of the most effective approaches for the psychosocial treatment of disruptive behavioral problems in young children. However, no previous Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) has been conducted on an intervention offering remote or internet-assisted parental training and population-based screening. This study reports on two-year outcomes from preschool children with disruptive behavioral problems who were randomized to receive either an 11-week internet-assisted parental training or an educational control condition. The study is unique, in part, due to its use of a population-based screening to facilitate enrollment and due to its long-term follow-up period with an assessment at 24 months which had a very low attrition rate.

Altogether, 730 of the 4,656 four-year-old children who attended annual child health clinic check-ups in Southwest Finland met the criteria for high level disruptive behavioral problems. 464 parents participated in the 11-week Strongest Families Smart Website (SFSW) intervention program, or an educational control (EC) group. When the SFSW and EC groups were compared between baseline and after the 24-month follow-up, the primary outcome of the Child Behavior Check List (CBCL) externalizing score showed significantly higher improvements in the SFSW group (effect size 0.22; p<0.001). In addition, most of the child psychopathology measures, including aggression, sleep problems, anxiety, and other emotional problems decreased significantly more in the SFSW group than in the EC group. Similarly, parental skills increased more in the SFSW group than in the EC group.

Interestingly, children in the SFSW group made significantly less use of child mental health services than the EC group during the 24-month follow-up period (17.5 percent vs. 28.0 percent).

"Our findings address some key public health challenges in delivering parent training programs," said lead author Andre Sourander, MD, PhD, of the University of Turku, Finland, and leader of the research group.

"When traditional parental training requires referral to clinical services, it often results in substantial delays, and older children are more likely to require adjunctive treatment to parental training. Studies have identified that internet-assisted treatment programs may offer certain benefits over traditional interventions: these include high levels of support; greater accessibility; convenience; and reduced costs. Studying feasibility and effectiveness of digitalized child mental health interventions is important because of the global shortage of skilled staff who can address child mental health problems."

According to Dr. Sourander, the parents were highly motivated and continued their involvement in the training program. Most importantly, the treatment effects were maintained until two years. Identifying children at risk in the community at an early stage enabled local government services to provide an effective parent training program for a large number of families, including many who would not have participated in clinic-based services.


Notes for editors

The article is "Two-Year Follow-Up of Internet and Telephone Assisted Parent Training for Disruptive Behavior at Age 4," by Andre Sourander, MD, PhD, Terja Ristkari, RN, MNSc, Jukka Huttunen, BM, Susanna Hinkka-Yli-Salomäki, PhLic, and Marjo Kurki, PhD, University of Turku, Finland; Patrick J. McGrath, OC, PhD, FRSC, FCAHS, and Patricia Lingley-Pottie, BNRN, PhD, Centre for Research in Family Health, IWK Health Centre, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; and Charles Cunningham, PhD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, Faculty of Health Science, Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada ( It appears in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, volume 57, issue 9 (September 2018), published by Elsevier

Dr. Sourander is a Professor of Child Psychiatry at the University of Turku, Finland, and an Adjunct Professor at the Division of Epidemiology, Columbia University, New York. He is the principal investigator in several psychiatric longitudinal birth cohort studies, clinical cohort studies, and RCTs. Dr. Sourander is leader of the Awareness, Prevention and Early Interventions (APEX) Consortium funded by the Strategic Research Council (SRC) at the Academy of Finland. The APEX program aims to develop, study effectiveness and implementation of interventions increasing mental health literacy and digitally delivered interventions in child and adolescent mental health.

Copies of this paper are available to credentialed journalists upon request; please contact Mary Billingsley at"> or +1 202 587 9672. Journalists wishing to interview the authors may contact Andre Sourander, MD, PhD, Department of Child Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, Lemminkäisenkatu 3 / Teutori 3.krs, 20014 University of Turku, Finland at +358 50 365 3447 or

About JAACAP Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent

Psychiatry (JAACAP) is the official publication of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. JAACAP is the leading journal focusing exclusively on today's psychiatric research and treatment of the child and adolescent. Published twelve times per year, each issue is committed to its mission of advancing the science of pediatric mental health and promoting the care of youth and their families.

The Journal's purpose is to advance research, clinical practice, and theory in child and adolescent psychiatry. It is interested in manuscripts from diverse viewpoints, including genetic, epidemiological, neurobiological, cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic, social, cultural, and economic. Studies of diagnostic reliability and validity, psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacological treatment efficacy, and mental health services effectiveness are encouraged. The Journal also seeks to promote the well-being of children and families by publishing scholarly papers on such subjects as health policy, legislation, advocacy, culture and society, and service provision as they pertain to the mental health of children and families.

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps institutions and professionals advance healthcare, open science and improve performance for the benefit of humanity. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support and professional education, including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, more than 38,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX Group, a global provider of information and analytics for professionals and business customers across industries.

Media contact

Mary Billingsley
JAACAP Editorial Office
+1 202 587 9672

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