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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA doctoral student studies effectiveness of online program in helping children of divorce

    According to the American Psychological Association, 40 to 50 percent of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, affecting over 1.1 million children every year.

    Many of these children are resilient, however, 25 percent of them will experience maladjustment and struggle with social, emotional, academic and behavioral issues. Karey O’Hara, a UA clinical psychology graduate student, is studying the efficacy of an online-based program designed to help children cope with divorce.

    “One of the things research is trying to pinpoint is: How can we identify which kids will end up in the 25 percent?” O’Hara said. “One of the strongest predictors is inter-parental conflict. Children from families that continue to have high levels of conflict after the separation are at greatest risk for maladjustment. So it’s not the divorce itself that hurts kids, but the way parents go about navigating the divorce that can cause harm.”

    The online-based program, Children of Divorce-Coping with Divorce, was created by O’Hara’s colleague, Jesse Boring, an Arizona State University alumnus. Boring created the program as part of his dissertation at ASU’s Prevention Research Center. Children who used the program would complete one module a week for five weeks.

    “The modules are designed to be fun, engaging and interactive for the children,” O’Hara said. “The five modules aim to increase active coping skills, decrease avoidant coping skills, increase coping efficacy and decrease maladaptive or unhelpful thoughts about divorce—like a child who takes the blame for the divorce.”

    Analysis of Boring’s preliminary randomized controlled trial indicated that for every 11 kids who went through the program, one mental-health problem was prevented.

    Boring’s trial included children from all kinds of families who had finalized their divorce between one to four years prior. O’Hara’s study is directed at the children who are in the 25 percent subset to see how well the program can help them.

    “My study is targeting high-conflict families,” O’Hara said. “We know that this program works well in a heterogeneous population, but what about these high-conflict populations?”

    O’Hara’s study, unlike Boring’s, will be recruiting children and their families earlier on in the divorce process. She is contacting families that had initiated a divorce or legal separation within the last 18 months, as well as families that have engaged the court to resolve parenting disputes. O’Hara is also communicating with community agencies that work with these families, including family court judges or divorce attorneys.

    Shivani Narang, a UA undergraduate student studying psychology and law, helps O’Hara to identify potential candidates for the study by reviewing divorce court cases between February and May of this year.

    “After determining eligibility, I go to the Pima County Superior Court and look into all of the cases I collected in the first step and gather data regarding contact information,” Narang said. “With this contact information, I create a mailing list that will be used to mail out the information to the parents about the study their child is eligible to participate in.”

    A unique aspect about the study is that parents who were never married but have a child together are also asked to participate.

    “There is a growing population within this country of people who cohabitate and have children together, but don’t legally marry,” O’Hara said. “The kids from ‘never married’ families are basically left out of the literature because most researchers recruit based on legal divorces.”

    O’Hara said she hopes to use the information learned from the study to support future research and to disseminate the information to legal and mental health professionals who work with these families.

    Follow Kimberlie Wang on Twitter.

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