Skip to main content

Parent-child therapy telehealth program to continue improving access to mental health care for underserved populations

By June 10, 2021No Comments

CHARLESTON, S.C. (June 9, 2021) – A joint MUSC-Clemson panel of judges named the Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) telehealth program as the first recipient of the Healthy Me – Healthy SC (HMHSC) grant. The HMHSC grant will provide a $50,000 award to support the Tele-PCIT program’s second year.

“We’re pleased to partner with and support Tele-PCIT, as it provides innovative therapeutic solutions to improve the quality of life for underserved South Carolina children and families,” explained David Sudduth, HMHSC executive director.

This was the inaugural year of the HMHSC grant, a funding opportunity designed to improve the implementation, reach and scaling potential of projects or programs that align with HMHSC’s mission to improve health care access and inequities in rural and underserved communities of South Carolina.

“The Tele-PCIT program application received high marks in each of our scoring categories and had a dual mental health and children’s health focus. We look forward to working with this program as it grows and helps additional families in need,” said Kapri Kreps Rhodes, HMHSC director.

All applications, she explained, needed to align with one of HMHSC’s four focus areas, which include women and children’s health, chronic disease/preventative health care, mental health and cancer. Applications were scored for their innovativeness, impact, scalability and sustainability.

The Tele-PCIT program

Disruptive behavior problems, such as oppositionality, aggression and hyperactivity/impulsivity, are present in 30% to 60% of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). PCIT is one of the most well-validated interventions for these types of behavior problems. Despite the initial promise of PCIT for children with ASD, challenges include attrition and limited accessibility.

Telehealth delivery has the potential to address barriers that affect treatment engagement, particularly for underserved populations. The Tele-PCIT program has spent the past year testing its feasibility and preliminary efficacy involving 20 children between the ages of 2 and 6 with ASD and disruptive behavior problems, with a considerable number of families coming from a low socioeconomic status or living in rural areas. The program provides parents with Bluetooth earpieces for the sessions and matches them with a PCIT therapist who then coaches them through 10 live PCIT sessions delivered to them via telehealth in their homes. The program has documented favorable outcomes regarding engagement and child behavior outcomes for families that have completed the program thus far. Its pilot will conclude this fall.

Rosmary Ros-DeMarize, assistant professor in the MUSC Division of Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics and PI of the Tele-PCIT program, described the vision for the program. “While we know that PCIT has been well-established for young children with disruptive behavior via telehealth, the unique aspect of this program is expanding it to the ASD population, which is often in need of behavioral services. Our focus for the next year will be to reach families of young children with ASD from underserved communities to improve reach and accessibility of behavioral therapies.”

With the funding provided by the HMHSC grant, the Tele-PCIT program will expand its trial for an additional year to include a focus on an additional 20 children from underserved populations in an effort to increase reach and collect further preliminary data necessary for a randomized trial of PCIT within this population.