Jeremy Craig, 404-413-1357
ATLANTA — A smartphone that many people carry around in their pockets might just be a key to help safeguard children who are at risk from hazards around the home, from poisonous plants and electrical hazards to filthy conditions, Georgia State University researchers have found.
Researchers with the National SafeCare Training and Research Center in the Center for Healthy Development at the Institute of Public Health recently provided iPhones to families where officials have intervened in child neglect to help document conditions around the home.
Workers had the ability to provide feedback based on the videos the parents took around the home with the iPhone and a new application for it, helping to reduce home hazards, said John Lutzker, director of the Center for Healthy Development and founder of SafeCare.
“It showed that a mom could use the iPhone to scan the home, which we usually do with a live observer to assess hazards,” he said. “It suggests that we can cut down on the number of home visits, which would make it less costly, but also in the same breath, it helped improve intervention by providing more feedback through texting and e-mail.”
The effort is part of enhancing a module of the SafeCare program, an evidence-based practice for the treatment and prevention of child abuse and neglect. This model of intervention, based on a home visitation program, has been shown to reduce child maltreatment (which includes abuse and neglect) among families with a history or risk factors for maltreatment.
There are a few limitations of what the iPhone can do – for example, video segments to be sent to social workers must be short due to technological limitations posed by sending multimedia attachments over the phone. That causes parents to have to make multiple videos.
Funding is also an issue. In the study, the researchers used an older model of the iPhone, the iPhone 3GS, rather than the newer iPhone 4.
The app does not completely eliminate the need for home visits, and they will always be a part of the SafeCare model. But the app helped to improve the intervention as a whole, Lutzker said.
“In this study, the first intervention was face-to-face,” Lutzker said. “The evaluator would say that ‘this is good, and you made progress,” or ‘I did notice this and this, could you do the following thing.’”
Lutzker said the center is always looking at new ways to use technology to help improve training of those who make home visits, train parents and make more efficient use of time and money. His center is looking towards wider use of technologies like smartphones, including the development of applications for the Android platform.
Development for the iPhone app was supported by a grant from the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation. For more about SafeCare, visit http://publichealth.gsu.edu/968.html.
July 25, 2011