Estimated impact on violent crime:
HIGH reduction in Behavioural difficulties1 2 3 4 5
What is it?
Parenting programmes support parents to strengthen their relationships with their children and promote positive development. They aim to help parents to:
- Develop a caring and responsive relationship with their child.
- Develop awareness of their child’s behaviour and respond in a positive, consistent, and non-violent way.
- Support the child to develop social and emotional skills.
These approaches to parenting could help children to manage their emotions and support positive behaviour. Research has demonstrated that children who develop behavioural difficulties are more likely to become involved in crime and violence.
Parenting programmes often work with parents of young children who display challenging behaviour. The age of the children varies by programme, but most evaluations have been conducted with parents of children aged 3 – 8 years old.
Programmes can work with individual parents but are often delivered to a group of parents in multiple sessions over several weeks. Most are delivered by trained facilitators in a community setting. However, there are also some online programmes which use pre-recorded demonstrations and activities.
Common activities include:
- Group discussions for parents to share the challenges and successes they experience in their relationships with their children.
- Demonstrations of positive interactions with children. For example, parents might watch a video of an interaction between a parent and child then discuss and reflect on the child’s behaviour and the parent’s response.
- Role play exercises. For example, some parents in the group might perform the role of a child who is refusing to share a toy with another child. This gives other parents the opportunity to practise different strategies and receive feedback from the programme facilitator and the rest of the group.
- Practical homework for parents to complete in between sessions. For example, the programme facilitator might ask parents to practise strategies at home with their child and share their experiences at the next session.
- Online forums or in-person discussions which encourage parents to share strategies they have been using.
- The facilitators might visit some parents at home to provide one-to-one coaching.
Is it effective?
There is strong evidence that parenting programmes can be effective at reducing behavioural difficulties, which are associated with later involvement in violence. However, there is a lack of research which directly measures the impact of parenting programmes on crime and violence. Based on the current evidence, our best estimate is that parenting programmes could lead to a small reduction in violent crime.
Most evaluations have shown positive effects which suggests there is a low risk of programmes having a harmful impact. There is also evidence that the impact can be sustained: long-term studies have found an impact on behaviour up to three years after programmes finish.
How secure is the evidence?
Our confidence in the estimate of impact on violent crime is low.
The available reviews have not directly measured the impact of programmes on crime or violence. The research focuses on the impact of programmes on behavioural difficulties and our estimate relies on modelling of the relationship between behavioural difficulties and later involvement in violence.
There have been numerous evaluations of parenting programmes in the UK and they have found positive effects on behaviour.
In September 2021 the YEF is launching a funding round (A supportive home – Helping families to overcome challenges) to test programmes and approaches which work with families, parents and carers.
How can you implement it well?
Encouraging parents to take part in the programme
Recruiting parents to take part in the programme can be challenging. When asking parents to take part in targeted programmes, can you avoid stigma and encourage positive motivation? Research on parents’ experience of programmes suggests that the way you start the programme is important.
- Parents who were instructed to attend a programme often reported stigma about being a ‘bad parent’. However, parents who were invited to attend reported that the invitation felt like an acknowledgment of difficulties.
- Taking time to explore and address any concerns before the programme starts could help parents to engage and complete the programme.
- It might help to emphasize parents’ strengths when asking them to take part. For example, you could emphasize that they have a lot to offer other parents, including their own success stories, as well as being able to learn from others.
- Parents often report that commitment to becoming a better parent was a key motivation for attending the programme. This could be the basis for a positive and non-judgemental approach to engaging parents.
Supporting parents during the programme
Careful programme design and implementation could make it easier for parents to engage. Evaluations report that many parents do not complete the whole programme. Recently, research has sought to understand what makes it easier and harder for parents to stay engaged.
Parents reported the following barriers to participation.
- Fear of judgement in group settings and not wanting to be ‘told how to parent’.
- Programmes that felt overwhelming, used too much technical language, or were not relatable or enjoyable.
- Competing demands, such as work commitments, financial issues or childcare.
- Programmes that are not culturally appropriate.
- Lack of support from co-parents or extended family.
- Distrust in services.
Parents reported that the following helped them to participate.
- Non-judgemental group facilitators who demonstrate techniques, instil hope, and can manage the group dynamics.
- Group-based programmes which create positive and trusting environments for sharing experiences.
- Flexibility in responding to parents’ needs in the programme content and delivery. For example, providing childcare and carefully considering the timing of delivery for working parents.
- Opportunities to practise new skills during role playing exercises.
- Celebrating success and highlighting when parents are making progress.
Finishing the programme
Some parents have reported that programmes ended too soon, and they would benefit from ongoing support. Sometimes this was addressed by maintaining relationships with other participants or continuing to use materials from the programme. Other programmes have additional stages for children to progress to as they age.
The role of programme facilitators
The research emphasizes that parents believe the skills of programme facilitators are vital to programme success. Parents reported benefitting from facilitators with a supportive and non-judgemental approach and the ability to instil hope, model techniques, manage relationships within the group, and adapt the programme to parents’ needs while retaining its core components. High-quality training and ongoing supervision are likely to be important in ensuring facilitators develop and maintain these attributes.
What programmes are available?
The Early Intervention Foundation’s (EIF) Guidebook contains 27 parenting programmes that have been evaluated for their impact on crime and violence outcomes. You can see a list of these programmes here.
How much does it cost?
On average, the cost of parenting programmes is likely to be moderate.
This estimate comes from two evaluated programmes; Incredible Years and Empowering Parents, Empowering Communities, which reported costs of c. £2,500 to implement their programmes with groups of parents.
- There is strong evidence that, on average, parenting programmes have reduced behavioural difficulties. There is good reason to believe that this should lead to reductions in crime and violence. However, there is a lack of research which directly measures this impact. Our best estimate is currently of a low impact on violence. Long-term follow up is required to directly measure the impact on violence.
- Non-judgemental and group-based programmes involving practical role-play exercises and delivered with flexibility (for example, keeping parental childcare arrangements in mind) were more likely to maintain parental engagement.
- Parents benefit from ongoing support, particularly through contact with other parents, once the programme finishes.
- In September 2021 the YEF is launching a funding round (A supportive home – Helping families to overcome challenges) to test programmes and approaches which work with families, parents and carers.
The EIF have produced a range of relevant resources, including a review of research on engaging parents in programmes.
Working with Parents to Support Children’s Learning – EEF guidance report
Evidence-based guidance for schools on working effectively with parents.