Community-Based Parent Support Programs
Carol M. Trivette, PhD, Carl J. Dunst, PhD
Orelena Hawks Puckett Institute, USA
Community-based parent support programs differ from traditional human services parenting programs in both form and function1 For the purposes of this review, parent support programs are defined as community-based initiatives designed to promote the flow of resources and supports to parents that strengthen functioning and enhance the growth and development of young children.
The primary goal of parent support programs is to provide support and information in ways that help parents become more capable and competent.2,3 Research now indicates that to reach this goal, it is necessary that staff use practices that are family-centered as opposed to professionally-centered, and capacity-building as opposed to dependency forming.4,5,6,7 The key characteristics of family-centered practices include: treating families with dignity and respect; providing individual, flexible and responsive support; sharing information so families can make informed decisions; ensuring family choice regarding intervention options; and providing the necessary resources and supports for parents to care for their children in ways that produce optimal parent and child outcomes.8,9,10,11
Home visiting programs and community-based parenting support programs are two different approaches to enhancing parents’ abilities to support their children’s development.12 This review examines evidence concerning the effectiveness of community-based parent support programs. Parent support programs that use home visiting for delivering parenting services are described elsewhere.2,13
Parent support programs aim to support and strengthen existing parenting abilities and promote the development of new competencies so that parents have the knowledge and skills needed to carry out child-rearing responsibilities and provide their children with experiences and opportunities that promote child learning and development.14 Parenting support programs typically include the following features: universal access for families, early support to families, and family involvement at all levels of program operation15 Parenting programs often encompass a variety of parenting activities, including, but not limited to, parent and child play groups, parent information classes and support groups, parenting materials, and individualized parent supports provided in response to particular child-rearing concerns or specific parenting questions. Providing or helping parents gain access to other types of supports and resources, such as medical or child care resources, is also an important feature of these programs.16,3
Community-based parent support programs are based on the belief that when parents receive parenting support as well as other supports and resources, they are more likely to feel better about themselves and their parenting abilities, and in turn interact with their children in responsive and supportive ways enhancing the development of their children.3 Bronfenbrenner,16 Cochran,17 and others18,19 have noted that parenting knowledge and skills are learned and strengthened by the kinds of help and assistance provided by informal and formal social support network members. The extent to which help and assistance enhances or compromises parenting competence and confidence depends to a large degree on the ways in which help is offered and provided.20,3,21,6 Consequently, efforts to provide supports and resources to parents need to be done in ways that enhance rather than diminish parenting capacity. Enhancing parenting competence and confidence is one major goal of capacity-building help-giving practices.
Capacity Building Help-Giving Practices.
Community-based parent support program staff use capacity-building helpgiving practices to provide supports to parents. Capacity-building helpgiving practitioners help family members acquire the skills to obtain resources, supports, and services. Capacity-building practices support and enhance parents’ competence and confidence to promote the development of their young children, including their social and emotional development.22,5
There are two dimensions of capacity-building helpgiving practices: relational and participatory helpgiving.23,24,25,6 Relational practices include behaviours typically associated with effective helpgiving (compassion, active listening, etc.) and positive staff attributions about program participant capabilities. Participatory helpgiving practices include behaviours that involve program participant choice and decision-making, and which meaningfully involve participants in actively procuring or obtaining desired resources or supports.
Enhancing and strengthening parenting capacity and the social and emotional development of young children are important outcomes of community-based parenting programs. The relationship between what program staff do and how parents enhance the social and emotional development of their young children is often implicitly rather than explicitly stated by parent support program builders. This paper includes information about the empirical evidence concerning the relationship between capacity building help-giving practices, parenting competence and confidence, and the behaviour and development of young children, including their social and emotional development.
By design, most parent support programs offer individualized, multifaceted “interventions” to parents in response to their changing concerns and needs. Although most studies were not designed to disentangle and unpack the effects of these interventions, it is possible to do so by paying careful attention to the characteristics of helpgiver practices to identify the most important characteristics of parent support program practices.
Key Research Questions
The research questions to be answered are the following:
- Does providing parent support in a family-centered capacity-building manner increase parents’ sense of confidence and competence in their parenting ability?
- Do parent support programs enhance parents’ abilities to interact with their young children in ways that lead to the children’s positive social and emotional development?
A number of research reviews and syntheses have been published that examined the relationship between family-centered helpgiving practices and parent, family, and child outcomes.26,22,27,5,28,29,30,31 The studies in these reviews and syntheses used different measures of family-centered capacity-building helpgiving, many of which assessed either or both relational and participatory helpgiving practices. The parent, child, and family outcomes in the studies in these reviews and syntheses included participant satisfaction with the helpgiver and his or her program, program helpfulness, social support and resources, parent and family functioning, parenting capabilities, and child behaviour and development. Several of these syntheses included measures of self-efficacy beliefs, where the investigators examined the extent to which the relationship between helpgiving practices and the study outcomes were mediated by belief appraisals.22,5
Capacity-building help-giving practices
Findings in the majority of research syntheses indicate capacity-building helpgiving practices are related to a host of positive parent, family, parent—child, and child outcomes.22,27,5 Both relational and participatory helpgiving practices were found to be related to participant satisfaction with program and practitioner supports, program resources, informal and formal supports, parent and family well-being, family functioning, and child behaviour and development. The nature of the relationship between helpgiving practices and both parenting capabilities and child social-emotional behaviour help elucidate how parent support programs influence these outcomes.
Parenting confidence, competence and enjoyment
Several research syntheses examined the ways capacity-building helpgiving practices were related to different aspects of parenting behaviour.26,22,27,5 The measures of parenting behaviour included parenting competence, parenting confidence, and parenting enjoyment. Both the direct and indirect effects of helpgiving practices on parenting behaviour were examined, where the indirect effects were determined using self-efficacy beliefs as a mediator. Results showed that helpgiving practices had both direct and indirect effects on parenting confidence, competence, and enjoyment, where the strength of the relationship was strongest for the indirect effects mediated by self-efficacy beliefs. Additionally, participatory (compared to relational) helpgiving practices had stronger direct and indirect effects on parenting behaviours.
Social-emotional behaviour and development
Findings in the same research syntheses also demonstrate a relationship between parent support program practices and the social and emotional development of young children.26,22,27,5,28,29 The measures of child behaviour included enhanced positive child social-emotional behaviour and attenuated negative child social-emotional behaviour. Both relational and participatory helpgiving practices had both direct and indirect effects on the different child behaviour outcomes. The indirect influences of helpgiving practices on child social-emotional behaviour was mediated by parents’ self-efficacy beliefs.
There is now a large and convincing body of evidence indicating that community-based parent support programs operated in a family-centered manner increase parents’ sense of parenting confidence and competence. Participatory help-giving practices that actively involve parents in deciding what knowledge is important to them, and how they want to acquire the information they need, have the greatest positive effect on parents’ sense of competence and confidence.22,5 Available research evidence also indicated that the social and emotional development of young children is influenced by the ways in which program staff provided parenting support.24,32
Parent support programs can have important positive effects on both parenting behaviours and the social and emotional development of young children. One of the key features of these programs is not only what is offered, but how supports are provided. Capacity-building helpgiving practices that form the basis of the interactions between staff and families ensure the enhancement of parents’ capacities which in turn gives them the competence and confidence necessary to interact with and promote the social and emotional development of their children.
- Weissbourd B. Family resource and support programs: Changes and challenges in human services. Prevention in Human Services 1990;9(1):69-85.
- Comer EW, Fraser MW. Evaluation of six family-support programs: Are they effective? Families in Society 1998;79(2):134-148.
- Dunst CJ. Key characteristics and features of community-based family support programs. Chicago, Ill: Family Resource Coalition, Best Practices Project; 1995.
- Allen RI, Petr CG. Toward developing standards and measurements for family-centered practice in family support programs. In: Singer GHS, Power LE, Olson AL, eds. Family, community, and disability: Redefining family support. Innovations in public-private partnerships. Baltimore, MD : Paul H. Brookes Pub. Co; 1996:57-85.
- Dunst CJ, Trivette CM, Hamby DW. Research synthesis and meta-analysis of studies of family-centered practices. Asheville, NC: Winterberry Press; 2008. Winterberry Monograph Series.
- Trivette CM, Dunst CJ. Capacity-building family-centered helpgiving practices Asheville, NC: Winterberry Press; 2007:1-10 . Winterberry Research Reports.
- Wade CM, Milton RL, Matthews JM. Service delivery to parents with an intellectual disability: Family-centered or professionally centered? Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities 2007;20(2):87-98.
- Dunst CJ. Conceptual and empirical foundations of family-centered practice. In: Illback RJ, Cobb CT, Joseph H Jr, eds. Integrated services for children and families: Opportunities for psychological practice. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 1997:75-91.
- Dunst CJ. Family-centered practices: Birth through high school. Journal of Special Education 2002;36(3):139-147.
- King G, King S, Rosenbaum P, Goffin R. Family-centered caregiving and well-being of parents of children with disabilities: Linking process with outcome. Journal of Pediatric Psychology 1999;24(1):41-53.
- Shelton TL, Smith Stepanek J. Family-centered care for children needing specialized health and developmental services. 3rd ed. Bethesda, MD: Association for the Care of Children's Health; 1994.
- Family Resource Coalition. Guidelines for family support practice. Chicago, Ill: Family Resource Coalition, Best Practices Project; 1996.
- Zercher C, Spiker D. Home visiting programs and their impact on young children. In: Tremblay RE, Barr RG, Peters RDeV, eds. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development [online]. Montreal, Quebec: Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development; 2004:1-8. Available at: http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/Pages/PDF/Zercher-SpikerANGxp.pdf. Accessed April 20, 2009.
- Kagan SL, Weissbourd B, eds. Putting families first: America's family support movement and the challenge of change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; 1994.
- Canadian Association of Family Resource Programs. Parenting and family supports: Moving beyond the rhetoric together. Ottawa, Ontario: Canadian Association of Family Resource Programs; 2001. Available at: http://www2.frp.ca/PDFDocuments/positionpaper2001.PDF. Accessed April 20, 2009.
- Bronfenbrenner U. The ecology of human development: experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 1979.
- Cochran M. Parenting and personal social networks. In: Luster T, Okagaki L, eds. Parenting: An ecological perspective. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; 1993:149-178.
- Bornstein MH, ed. Status and social conditions of parenting. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; 1995. Handbook of parenting; vol 3.
- Shonkoff JP, Phillips DA, eds. From neurons to neighborhoods: the science of early child development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2000.
- Caplan PJ. The new don't blame mother: mending the mother-daughter relationship. New York, NY: Routledge; 2000.
- Hewlett SA, West C. The war against parents: what we can do for America's beleaguered moms and dads. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin; 1998.
- Dunst CJ, Trivette CM, Hamby DW. Family support program quality and parent, family and child benefits. Asheville, NC: Winterberry Press; 2006. Winterberry Monograph Series
- Dunst CJ, Trivette CM. Empowerment, effective helpgiving practices and family-centered care. Pediatric Nursing 1996;22(4):334-337, 343.
- Dunst CJ, Trivette CM. Measuring and evaluating family support program quality. Asheville, NC: Winterberry Press; 2005. Winterberry Monograph Series.
- Trivette CM, Dunst CJ. Family-centered helpgiving practices. Paper presented at: 14th Annual Division for Early Childhood International Conference on Children with Special Needs. December, 1998: Chicago, IL.
- Dempsey I, Keen D. A review of processes and outcomes in family-centered services for children with a disability. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education 2008;28(1):42-52.
- Dunst CJ, Trivette CM, Hamby DW. Meta-analysis of family-centered helpgiving practices research. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews 2007;13(4):370-378.
- King S, Teplicky R, King G, Rosenbaum P. Family-centered service for children with cerebral palsy and their families: A review of the literature. Seminars in Pediatric Neurology 2004;11(1):78-86.
- O'Brien M, Dale D. Family-centered services in the neonatal intensive care unit: A review of research. Journal of Early Intervention 1994;18(1):78-90.
- Rosenbaum P, King S, Law M, King G, Evans J. Family-centred service: A conceptual framework and research review. Physical and Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics 1998;18(1):1-20.
- Shields L, Pratt J, Davis LM, Hunter J. Family-centred care for children in hospital. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007;1:4811.
- Layzer JI, Goodson BD, Bernstein L, Price C. National evaluation of family support programs: Final report. Cambridge, MA: Abt Associates; 2001. The Meta-Analysis; vol A
How to cite this article:
Trivette CM, Dunst CJ. Community-Based Parent Support Programs. In: Tremblay RE, Boivin M, Peters RDeV, eds. Tremblay RE, topic ed. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development [online]. https://www.child-encyclopedia.com/parenting-skills/according-experts/community-based-parent-support-programs. Updated December 2014. Accessed April 11, 2021.