• By Laura Whybra
  • Posted on Wednesday 01st May, 2013

Need parents for your program? Follow the babies 2

strong>It’s one of the hardest sells in the prevention world—the task of recruiting families to parenting programs. But one intervention is fighting the dismal statistics with a common sense approach. Instead of waiting for the families to come to them, they are going where almost every family is created, and where most have to go multiple times, the local hospital.Family-focused prevention programs, especially ones designed for new families, have a hard time recruiting and keeping clients. Typically less than one per cent of a target population actually complete the program. Recruitment and retention of families in these programs is particularly difficult if they demand a family attend more than one session or the activity is held outside of the home.One family-focused program has sought to improve this rate of infiltration by setting up shop where almost every expecting family goes eventually. Rather than putting out advertisements in the community and working through referrals (the way most programs find new parents), Family Foundations is a universal prevention program offered to expectant parents through their local hospital.The intervention is based on the body of research that shows that a child’s well-being is directly affected by the quality of his parent’s relationship and their competence in their roles. Family Foundations focuses on the co-parenting relationship, a couple’s ability to support one another as they raise their child.The eight-session group program is delivered through conventional childbirth classes run out of hospitals and is specifically targeted at the transition to parenthood. Half of the intervention is delivered during pregnancy and half after the birth of the baby. The program is led by a male-female team and is delivered through a combination of instructional presentations, communication exercises, video vignettes of other families and group discussions.The intervention has been recently evaluated in a randomised controlled trial of 169 couples. 89 couples received the program and 80 received no intervention. Early results in 2008 demonstrated that the intervention had positive effects at the time the child reached six months of age, with improved support between parents and reduced maternal depression.In a follow-up study in 2009, researchers caught up with the families around their child’s first birthday. In addition to answering questions about their progress, couples were videotaped in a task where they were required to talk to each other about problems in their relationship. This activity was repeated at follow-ups that included two family tasks where parents were observed interacting with their child.The evaluation found significant effects of the program on each of the four areas studied. Participants in the intervention group showed both increased co-parenting and parenting skills compared to those in the control group. Women and men in the intervention group were also less likely to undermine their partner’s authority as a parent and more likely to include them in play with the child.It was hypothesised that improved co-parenting would be related to a general improvement in the couple’s relationship as a whole. The evaluation confirmed this. Partners in the intervention group were significantly more likely to be physically and verbally affectionate to each other than control group couples.At their first birthday, children of these parents were also more likely to demonstrate self-soothing behaviors, for example stroking, sucking and self-directed comforting. These behaviors are linked in later life to greater self-regulation and reduced behavioral difficulties.Family Foundations says that their focus on the co-parenting relationship has a greater impact on parenting quality and subsequent child well-being than programs that focus more generally on relationship satisfaction. The results of the study suggest they might be right.The study contributes to the growing literature that says focusing on the couple’s relationship can promote the well-being of children. But as of yet, there are no statistics available about how well Family Foundations is doing with retention. They hope that being near the source has given them an advantage. Working from within a hospital service means that, in the US at least, they come into contact with approximately two-thirds of new parents. If they can reach just a fraction of those parents, they will be doing better than most programs.**********References:Feinberg, M.E., Kan, M.L. and Goslin, M.C. (2009). Enhancing coparenting, parenting and child self-regulation: Effects of Family Foundations 1 year after birth. Prevention Science, 10, 276-285.Feinberg, M.E. and Kan, M.L. (2008). Establishing family foundations: Intervention effects on coparenting, parent/infant well-being, and parent-child relations. Journal of Family Psychology, 22, 253-263.

Back to Archives