The Evidence Portal

Parent Support Outreach program

About the program

The Parent Support Outreach (PSO) program is for families at high risk of child maltreatment. It aims to provide families with needed supports to promote safety and wellbeing of children and families, and to prevent further escalation and referrals to higher-end / higher-cost programs.

The program provides a wide range of services:

  • financial (e.g. helping pay for basic necessities, connecting to emergency food banks, welfare assistance, employment and job training services),
  • therapeutic (e.g. mental health, substance abuse)
  • help with parenting and childcare
  • others (e.g., legal, child developmental services or recreational activities).

Caregivers are given support to increase their parental capacity. This includes meeting their children's and family's needs, removing barriers impacting family functioning, and gaining access to community-based resources.

Who does it work for?

The PSO program is designed for families with children aged 10 years and younger and have been deemed high-risk for child maltreatment. To be eligible, families must have two or more risk factors associated with child maltreatment and/or parenting struggles.

The program has only been evaluated in the USA (Millett, 2019).

One quasi-experimental design was conducted with 1,916-1,999 people (number of people in the control and intervention groups has not been reported for the final sample size). On average, caregivers were 32 years old. The majority of caregivers were either Caucasian or African-American and were generally low income families.

The program has not been tested in Australia or with Aboriginal Australians.       

What outcomes does it contribute to?

Positive outcomes:

  • Child abuse reports (substantiated): there are fewer reports of substantiated child abuse in families who receive the PSO intervention, compared to families receiving standard interventions.
  • Parent’s use of services: there is a higher rate of receiving adult mental health services in families who receive the PSO intervention, compared to families receiving standard interventions.

Negative outcomes:

  • No negative effects were found.

How effective is it?

Overall, the PSO program has positive effects on client outcomes.

How strong is the evidence?

Promising research evidence:

  • At least one high-quality randomised controlled trial (RCT) or quasi-experimental design (QED)  study reports statistically significant positive effects for at least one outcome, AND
  • Fewer RCT or QED studies of similar size and quality show no observed effects than show statistically significant positive effects, AND
  • No RCT or QED studies show statistically significant adverse effects.

How is it implemented?

There are two components in the PSO program: Assessment and Case management.

  • Assessment: an assessment worker conducts an initial assessment using the Structured Decision-Making Family Needs and Strengths (FNS) tool in the family's home. The FNS tool assesses the family's mental health, substance use, domestic violence problems, parenting skills, communication skills, life skills, social support, basic needs, disability, and community resource utilisation problems. The assessment worker may provide some initial referrals or quick services to a family (e.g., paying for transportation to get to an appointment).
  • Case Management: If the family has additional needs that require connection to more services a case manager steps in to manage the case. These needs may be beyond what the assessment worker is able to provide, or if a family needs help navigating different services/systems and needs longer supports.  A service plan is developed together with the family that structures case management activities and sets the goals for the case.

The key feature of the program is that service provision is based on family needs identified during the assessment. Services are provided directly by a PSO worker, others are community referred (PSO funds may pay for them). PSO workers are trained in family engagement and collaboration techniques and refer to other services as needed. Families are encouraged to make decisions about their needs and possible solutions, and to be active participants in their service plans.

Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) conferences are employed frequently as part of the Parent Support Outreach Program. FGDM is a family-centered process where family members lead decision-making in addressing concerns related to child safety and wellbeing while being supported by caseworkers and service providers.  They also help connect families to formal and informal supports to maintain their progress after the program.

How much does it cost?

Not reported

What else should I consider?

The PSO program was originally designed to be implemented through the US Child Protective Services (CPS), so will need to be adjusted for Australian populations and referral services.

Where does the evidence come from?

One QED conducted in the USA, with at least 1,916 participants (varied between 1,916 and 1,996 participants) (Millett 2019).

Further resources

Millett (2019), Outcomes from early child maltreatment prevention program in child protective services. Children and Youth Services Review, Vol. 101, pp. 329-340.

Last updated:

16 Feb 2023

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