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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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Anne Brady and Julia Coffman of Harvard Family Research Project share results and lessons from HFRP's Parenting Study.

In this era of increased accountability, family support and parenting programs are under pressure to demonstrate their results. Programs must look to and build on the lessons from the past three decades of research and evaluation in order to increase their chances of success and survival. Their results will determine their future.

In a forthcoming sourcebook on family support programs that focus on improving parenting, Harvard Family Research Project reflects on what is known about family support and parenting programs from the field's history of research and evaluation. We lay out what can be done to meet demands for accountability in terms of program and evaluation practice.

Based on in-depth analysis of 30 programs profiled in the study, we make 12 recommendations about program and evaluation elements. These recommendations can be used for future decisions about programs that aim to improve parenting or support good parenting practices.

  • Develop services that focus on and seek to modify parent-child interactions. An emphasis on parent-child interactions is called for since good parent-child interactions lead to better developmental outcomes for children.

  • Tailor services to meet the needs of unique regional, cultural, and ethnic groups. Our nation is composed of diverse communities with equally diverse values and needs. Programs should match their designs to these needs without sacrificing important core attributes of interventions.

  • Start interventions early and acknowledge the potential need for a continuity of services. It is easier to prevent the negative effects of poor parenting than it is to reverse them, so early intervention is recommended. The availability of supports and services in the later years is also important.

  • Have reasonable expectations about the time commitment required of families and providers. Time expectations for program participation must fit with other demands on families and providers. Alternate service arrangements may be necessary.

  • Recognize that factors in parents' social and cultural context have an impact on parenting. Programs must think about ways to address variables outside of their purview that can have a negative impact on families.

  • Work with other providers to form a system of efficient and comprehensive services. Families need access to a variety of services to sustain their ability to be good parents. Family support and parenting programs alone cannot provide all of these services; they must work with other providers to develop systems of services for families.

  • Use evaluation strategies that reflect and support the field's move toward more comprehensive initiatives. Traditional evaluation methods are not sufficient to assess complex and comprehensive initiatives.

  • Examine child and parent outcomes and needs longitudinally. It is important that program results be examined over time to demonstrate long-term program success and to assess periodically the needs of parents and children.

  • Choose measures that reflect intended program outcomes. As the pressure to prove results increases, programs must be confident that their measures are a good reflection of their progress and are applicable to the populations they serve.

  • Examine the relation between parent and child outcomes. Programs that are interested in changing parenting to affect child development should examine the relationship between changes in parent outcomes and changes in child outcomes to demonstrate that they have achieved their goal.

  • Establish mutually beneficial relationships between evaluators, providers, and child development researchers. Collaborative relationships are necessary to ensure that evaluation results are useful and used.

  • Consider using cost-effectiveness analyses as a method for measuring and reporting program results. These analyses determine the effectiveness of a program in terms of program costs. They provide valuable decision-making criteria for policymakers and providers.

The recommendations and detailed program profiles will be included in the forthcoming sourcebook.

Anne Brady, Research Coordinator, HFRP

Julia Coffman, Research Specialist, HFRP

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© 2016 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College
Published by Harvard Family Research Project