Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion

Parents Plus - Parenting when Separated Programme

Evidence level:
 
Evidence of effectiveness:
? - 0 + ++
Transferability:
? - 0 + ++
Enduring impact:
? - 0 +

Project overview

The Parents Plus – Parenting when Separated Programme (PP-PWS) aims to help separated and divorced parents solve co-parenting problems, better communicate with their co-parent and children, and develop techniques to manage the stress and emotional impact of separation on parents and children. The programme targets separated parents in Ireland, including both mothers and fathers and both custodial and noncustodial parents. 

PP-PWS is part of a suite of programs designed by Parents Plus, a registered charity in Dublin, Ireland.  Since 1998, Parents Plus has been developing parenting and mental health courses grounded in developmental psychology.  To design the PP-PWS programme, the programme authors conducted focus groups with separated parents, reviewed research on the effects of divorce on children and adults, and consulted curricula from effective psychoeducational skills-training programs and material from other Parents Plus programmes.

Practice category

  • Supporting Parenting and Assisting with Childcare
  • Helping Vulnerable Children

Recommendation pillars

  • Enhance family support and the quality of alternative care settings
  • Provide children with a safe, adequate housing and living environment

Countries that have implemented practice

  • Ireland

Age groups

  • Adults (age 20+)

Target groups

  • Children
  • Mothers
  • Fathers
  • Parents

Years in operation

  • 2015  - still operating

The PP-PWS programme was developed and piloted prior to the publication of the evaluation in 2015 and is still in operation.

Scope of practice

  • Local level

Type of organisation implementing practice

  • Private Health Care Organisation

Parents Plus is a registered charity established under the Mater Hospital, in Dublin, Ireland.  Parents Plus has expressed a commitment to developing evidence-based educational and therapeutic programmes for parents and children and providing training and support to community professionals working with children and families.

Rationale of practice

The programme consists of 6 weekly group sessions, with groups of between 6 and 12 parents. During each 2-hour session, mental health professionals facilitate discussions about the effects of separation on children and families.  The facilitators provide practical, evidence-based information about the effects of separation, help participants develop parenting and co-parenting skills, and encourage improvement of personal coping.  The six sessions cover the following topics:  (1) the impact of separation on parents and children; (2) how to develop a business relationship with one’s co-parent; (3) positive parenting strategies for helping children of different ages cope with separation; (4) how to manage children’s contact with the live-away parent; (5) how to remain calm during conflicts; and (6) how to cope with separation in the long term.  

The PP-PWS programme was piloted at 3 sites with a total of 33 parents before the evaluation published in 2015.  The pilot study demonstrated that the programme was satisfactory to parents and led to statistically significant improvements in meeting goals on the Client Goals Scales (CGS, Coughlin et al., 2009).  

Mode of delivery

  • Group sessions

Delivery dosage

  • Frequency: Weekly
  • Duration: More than hour sessions

Location of practice

Not available

Evidence of effectiveness

Evaluation 1 

Keating, A., Sharry, J., Murphy, M., Rooney, B., & Carr, A. (2015).  An evaluation of the Parents Plus – Parenting When Separated programme. Clinical Child Psychology & Psychiatry, Oct. 12, 2015, 1-15.

This evaluation, which was conducted by the programme developers, used a cluster randomized control trial (RCT).  The RCT took place at 16 sites in Ireland, which included child and family mental health services in the public health system and child and family voluntary care agencies.  Sites were paired, with one site in each pair randomized to the PP-PWS treatment group and the other site to the control group.  Each treatment group participated in the 6-week PP-PWS programme.  Parents in the treatment and control groups were assessed using five self-report questionnaires at baseline (Time 1) and 6 weeks later (Time 2).  (The Evaluation Details section describes these self-report questionnaires, including details about outcomes measured by each questionnaire.)  For four of these questionnaires (CGS, KPS, QCCS, and MHI-5), higher scores signify better adjustment.  From Time 1 to Time 2, the mean scores for the treatment group increased significantly.  There was no significant increase in the scores for the control group.  For one of these questionnaires (SDQ), low scores signify better adjustment.  From Time 1 to Time 2, the mean scores for the treatment group decreased significantly.  There was no significant decrease in the scores for the control group. 

Summary of Results for Evaluation 1

Outcome

Treatment Group  Control Group

Outcomes improved, mean scores (statistically significant)

MHI-5 – Parental adjustment

14.73 16.68 15.11 15.30

The MHI-5 contains 5 questions, each scored from 1 to 5.  A higher score indicates better parental adjustment.

SDQ – Children’s behavioural & emotional problems

14.23 12.15 15.32 15.24

The SDQ contains 20 items covering behavioural and emotional problems using a three-point response format (0 = not true to 2 = certainly true). 
A lower score indicates fewer behavioural and emotional problems.

QCCS – Co-parental conflict management

9.27 10.76 10.57 10.45

This measure contains four items rated on a scale from 1 = never to 5 = always.  A higher score indicates better co-parental conflict management.

KPS – Parental satisfaction

15.00 16.06 14.67 14.45

The KPS includes 3 items rated on a scale from 1 = extremely dissatisfied to 7 = extremely satisfied. A higher score indicates higher satisfaction.

CGS – Parenting goals 11.35 18.94 11.46 12.90

The CGS measures are based on three goals, with parents rating their attainment of those goals between 1 and 10. A higher score indicates higher goal attainment.

Outcomes with no effects

None

 n/a  n/a  n/a  n/a

Transferability

The PP-PWS programme has only been evaluated in Ireland and there is only one evaluation available. Parents Plus provides English-language programme materials and conducts facilitator trainings in Dublin, Ireland.

Practice Materials

  • Practice materials are not available online

Parents Plus provides programme materials (a facilitator’s manual, an accompanying book with background readings, and parent booklets) and conducts facilitator trainings in Dublin, Ireland. The programme facilitator’s manual contains key psychoeducational points and a description of exercises for each session.  The PP-PWS parent booklet also covers key points from each session.

Cost information

  • Implementation cost information is not available

No cost studies have been completed on the PP-PWS programme.

Enduring impact

Follow-up data were not collected, so there are no evaluations of the long-term effects of the PP-PWS programme.  

Evaluation details

This evaluation used a cluster RCT.  Sites were paired, with one site in each pair randomized to the PP-PWS treatment group and the other site to the control group.  To minimize differences between participants at pairs of sites, site-pairings were chosen in which participants at each site closely matched on baseline assessment protocol variables.  Each treatment group, which consisted of an average of 5 parents, participated in the 6-week PP-PWS programme.  (Participants randomized into the control group were afforded the opportunity to participate in PP-PWS after the 6-week waiting list period.)  The first two authors of the study trained facilitators in the PP-PWS programme and facilitators received regular supervision throughout the trial.  Facilitators used the PP-PWS manual and distributed the PP-PWS booklet to the treatment group.  Parents in the treatment and control groups were assessed using five self-report questionnaires at Time 1 and Time 2: 

The 5-item Mental Health Inventory (MHI-5; Berwick et al., 1991) measures parental psychological adjustment and screens for common psychological problems.   The MHI-5 contains 5 questions: “How much of the time during the last month have you: (i) been a very nervous person?; (ii) felt downhearted and blue?; (iii) felt calm and peaceful?; (iv) felt so down in the dumps that nothing could cheer you up?; and (v) been a happy person?”  Parents chose 1 of 5 responses: all of the time (0 point), most of the time (1 points), a good bit of the time (2 points), some of the time (3 points), a little of the time (4 points), or none of the time (5 points).  The scoring for questions (iii) and (v) is reversed because these items relate to positive feelings.  A higher score indicates better parental adjustment.

The total difficulties scale of the parent-report version of Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ; R. Goodman, 2001) is a summary index of children’s behavioural and emotional problems.  Parents rated 20 items that covered emotional and peer relationship problems, inattention/hyperactivity, and conduct using a three-point response format (0 = not true to 2 = certainly true).  A lower score indicates fewer behavioural and emotional problems.  Parents with more than one child were instructed to base responses on the child experiencing the greatest difficulty adjusting to separation.

The co-parental conflict management subscale of the QCCS (Ahrons, 1981) measures the quality of the co-parenting relationship.  Parents rated 4 items on a scale from 1 to 5: “(1) When you and your former spouse discuss parenting issues, how often does an argument result?   (2) How often is the underlying atmosphere one of hostility and anger?  (3) How often is the conversation stressful and tense?  (4) Do you and your former spouse have basic differences of opinion about issues related to child rearing?” (Ahrons, 1981).  A higher score indicates better co-parental conflict management.

The Kansas Parental Satisfaction Scale (KPS; James et al., 1985) measures how parents perceive their relationship with their children.  Parents rated satisfaction with themselves as a parent, the behaviour of their children, and their relationship with their children on a scale from 1 = extremely dissatisfied to 7 = extremely satisfied..  (As with the SDQ, parents with more than one child were instructed to base responses on the child experiencing the greatest difficulty adjusting to separation.)  The satisfaction score, which may range from 3 to 21, is the sum of scores for each question.  A higher score indicates higher satisfaction.

The Client Goals Scales (CGS, Coughlin et al., 2009) measures how closely parents are meeting personal parenting goals.  Participants selected three goals at Time 1 (one focused on parenting, one focused on co-parenting, and one child-focused).  At Time 1 and Time 2, parents rated how closely they came to meeting each of the goals on 10-point scales and the three ratings were summed.  A higher score indicates higher goal attainment

Overall, 82 cases assigned to the treatment group and 79 cases assigned to the control group completed Time 1 assessments.  Fifty-six cases assigned to the treatment group and 47 cases assigned to the control group completed assessments at Time 2.  Data from all 161 cases randomized to treatment and control was included in an intent-to-treat analysis in order to reduce attrition-related bias.  Scores from Time 1 were carried forward for missing Time 2 scores.  “A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) followed by a series of analyses of variance (ANOVAs) on five dependent variables showed that from Time 1 to 2, mean scores of the treatment group improved more than those of the control group, and at Time 2, treatment group scores reflected significantly better adjustment than those of the control group” (Keating et al., 2015).  A 2 x 2, Group x Time, repeated measures MANOVA conducted with the 5 independent variables confirmed the treatment group’s significant improvement from Time 1 to Time 2, controlling for type 1 error associated with using multiple dependent variables.

Issues to consider

There is only one study of the PP-PWS programme, and three of the five study authors may have conflicts of interest.  Adele Keating and Michelle Murphy developed the PP-PWS Programme and John Sharry is the founding director of the Parents Plus organization. 

Other issues to consider are:  (1) The study did not account for clustering at the site level, which would decrease the effective sample size and increase p-values.  (2) Long-term effects of the programme were not evaluated because no follow up data were collected.  (3)  All outcome measurements were parent-reported.

Available resources

The Parents Plus website (http://www.parentsplus.ie/) provides information about the Parents Plus charity and its programmes. Information about the PP-PWS programme can be found at: http://www.parentsplus.ie/programmes-about/parenting-when-separated/.

Parents Plus conducts facilitator trainings for the PP-PWS programme in Dublin, Ireland.

Bibliography

  • Keating, A., Sharry, J., Murphy, M., Rooney, B., & Carr, A. (2015).  An evaluation of the Parents Plus – Parenting When Separated programme. Clinical Child Psychology & Psychiatry, Oct. 12, 2015, 1-15.

Contact information

Name

Prof. John Sharry

Organisation

Parents Plus Charity

Address

Mater Hospital, Dublin , D07 AX57, Ireland

Phone

+353 1 830 7984

Email

john@parentsplus.ie

Website www.parentsplus.ie

Last updated

May 2019

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