Promoting development in child victims of abuse

Abuse by a parent has devastating effects on a child's development. Parent-child relationship therapies have become popular over the past few years, but very few of these programs have been examined from a scientific point of view.

The Centre d'étude sur l'attachement et la famille (Centre for Studies on Attachment and Family) diected by Ellen Moss, has carried out the first evaluation of the Programme en intervention relationnelle, a short-term intervention program (8 to 10 weeks) based on attachment theory and developed for abused children and their parents. One of the distinctive features of this program is that it aims at reinforcing sensitivity behaviours in the parents through video feedback. The study involved 80 children between 0 and 5 years of age and their mothers, after the mothers were reported to child protection services. It was conducted in collaboration with the Canadian Government's National Crime Prevention Strategy, the Quebec Ministry for Public Safety and the youth protection centres in one region of Quebec.

The results show that following the eight intervention sessions, the parents who participated in this intervention program were more sensitive to the problem than those who only received the usual child protection services followup. The research also showed an increase in motor development and secure attachment behaviour and a reduction in disorganized insecure attachment behaviour in the children. Furthermore, a decrease in behavioural troubles was observed in the older children.

Given the scarcity of available resources, short-term programs focusing on parental behaviour appear to be a particularly interesting option, as they quickly produce positive changes both in the behaviour of the parent and the attachment security of the child.


Centre d'étude sur l'attachement et la famille


Ellen Moss, Université du Québec à Montréal

Regular members

  • Annie Bernier, Université de Montréal
  • George Tarabulsy, Université Laval
  • Réjean Tessier, Université Laval
  • Diane St-Laurent, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières