ERIC Identifier: ED382406
Publication Date: 1995-05-00
Author: Kagan, Sharon L.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
The Changing Face of Parenting Education. ERIC Digest.
Today's families face monumental stresses associated with daily living. A
stagnant economy routinely demands family employment in two or three jobs,
leaving little time for effective parenting. Job insecurity often fuels family
discontinuity and fragmentation. Unemployment, once the condition of the
unskilled, has affected pink and white collar workers, causing more and more
parents regularly to face complexities that make nurturing children difficult.
Finally, the rise in the number of single parents, many of them teenage or never
married, places heavy burdens on families and on society.
As these dramatic demographic changes have occurred, so have equally profound
advances in our knowledge about the relationship between demographic conditions,
family life, and child outcomes. We know, for example, that economically
deprived single mothers are more likely to abuse their children physically
(Gelles, 1989), that premature low-birthweight babies born into poverty have a
poorer prognosis of functioning within normal ranges (Bradley et al., 1994), and
that family income and poverty are powerful correlates of the cognitive
development and behavior of young children (Duncan et al., 1994). Conversely, we
know that when economic conditions of families are improved, or when services
such as parent education and support are offered, outcomes for children,
siblings, and families improve (Roberts & Wasik, 1990; Seitz & Apfel,
Such advances in scientific knowledge--while perhaps not fully understood by
parents--have filtered into public consciousness. American parents recognize
that parenting is important and that they can benefit from help in meeting their
parenting duties. A recent survey by the Public Agenda (1994), for example,
noted that one-third of parents feel that teachers today are doing a worse job
than teachers of the previous generation. But 55% also said that they themselves
are doing a worse job of parenting than their parents did. When asked if a child
was more likely to succeed if he or she came from a stable and supportive family
but attended a poor school, or if he or she came from a troubled family but
attended a good school, 61% of the parents said the child with the more stable
family had the better chance of success.
In short, Americans understand the importance of parental competence; that is
why they flock to bookstores to buy parenting magazines and why they cruise
electronic bulletin boards that offer advice and conversation.
PARENTING EDUCATION: TIMELY AND USEFUL
Not insensitive to
parents' needs, social service providers are recontouring their efforts to
provide parent education and family support programs. Parent education programs
are growing in number and becoming increasingly diverse on virtually every
dimension imaginable: sponsorship, funding mechanisms, audience, intensity,
staffing patterns, and evaluation strategy.
What binds these diverse programs together? Contrary to the approach used in
the days when parent education had a didactic, if not somewhat elitist,
orientation, today's approach is more universally adapted. While programs differ
in how they carry out activities, they tend to embrace a common set of
principles: (1) a focus on prevention and optimization rather than treatment;
(2) a recognition of the need to work with the entire family and community; (3)
a commitment to regarding the family as an active participant in the planning
and execution of the program rather than as a "passive client" waiting to
receive services; (4) a commitment to nourishing cultural diversity; (5) a focus
on strength-based needs analyses, programming, and evaluation; and (6) flexible
staffing (Dunst & Trivette, 1994). In practice, adherence to these
principles suggests that today's parent education and support programs endow
families with primary responsibility for their children's development and
well-being; envision healthy, functioning families as the basis of a healthy
society; and understand families as a part of a system that includes
neighborhood and community.
CURRENT ISSUES IN PARENTING EDUCATION
nomenclature represent one of several current issues in parent education.
Terminology used--besides parent education--includes parent empowerment, family
education, family life education, parent support, and family support. Some other
The equity issue. Parent education is alive and well in the marketplace, with
affluent consumers exercising choice and purchasing information. Low-income
parents have far more limited access to formal parenting programs and less
discretionary income with which to purchase information. If parent education is
left to market forces alone, the wealthy will become more information rich,
while the poor will become comparatively and actually more information poor.
The voluntary/involuntary issue. Presently, most programs are voluntary, with
parents determining the nature and length of their engagement. Increasingly, as
programs receive public funding and are designed to ameliorate a particular
problem (substance abuse or child abuse, for example), their voluntary nature
comes into question. Changing from a voluntary to a required program may alter
the intent and nature of family support and violate its basic principles.
The cultural competence issue. Beneath the face of parent education and
support lie widely different ideas about what constitutes effective parenting,
varying often with cultural predispositions and orientations (Caldwell et al.,
1994). Discerning multiple understandings of what constitutes competence across
and among cultures and delineating effective ways to build parental competence
while nourishing diversity remain a challenge.
The quality issue. Because parent education and family support efforts have
grown fairly rapidly, and because they have emerged from different professional
traditions, attempts to address program quality are only beginning to emerge.
Uncertainty regarding specific variables associated with quality outcomes
prevails. Overall, there is little specification regarding the competencies,
training, or credentials needed for working in the programs. Tools to evaluate
program quality and methods of program accreditation are only now being
The results issue. While it is appropriate to demand results from parenting
education and family support efforts, the programs must be recognized for what
they are and are not. They do not replace efforts in community development or
major employment initiatives. They do enhance parents' overall competence and
self-efficacy, knowledge of child development, and capacities to parent more
effectively. It is for these outcomes that parent education should be held
accountable. To date, only sporadic evaluation of parent education and family
support has taken place. Much of the data collected have been on pilot programs
and have been conducted by the program developers without random assignment of
participants (Powell, 1994). More emphasis needs to be placed on durable,
scientific, objective evaluations that measure those results that the
interventions are designed to accomplish.
The linkage/coordination issue. The need to engage in cooperative planning,
coordination of service delivery, and infrastructure development across
programs, communities, and states is becoming acute. In some locales, voluntary
networks of parent education and family support programs are developing,
fostering linkages that promote coordination and access.
POTENTIAL GOVERNMENT STRATEGIES
If parent education and
family support are an important national priority, policymakers can support such
programs by fostering public-private collaborations and supporting publicly
funded efforts for low-income parents. The conditions of families are affected
also by every piece of social legislation, and family support can be infused
into a broad range of social supports. As the nation considers many new
contracts, let us remember that the most significant contract of all is the
familial contract we undertake with our children.
Adapted from: Kagan, Sharon L. (1995). On Building Parental Competence: The
Nature of Contracts and Commitments. In THE CHALLENGE OF PARENTING IN THE '90S.
Washington, DC: The Aspen Institute.
Bradley, R.H., L. Whiteside, D. Mundfrom, P.
Casey, K. Kelleher, and S. Pope. (1994). Early Indications of Resilience and
Their Relations to Experiences in the Home Environments of Low Birthweight
Premature Children Living in Poverty. CHILD DEVELOPMENT 65(2, April): 346-360.
EJ 483 917.
Caldwell, C., A. Green, and A. Billingsley. (1994). Family Support in Black
Churches: A New Look at Old Functions. In S.L. Kagan and B. Weissbourd (Eds.),
PUTTING FAMILIES FIRST: AMERICA'S FAMILY SUPPORT MOVEMENT AND THE CHALLENGE OF
CHANGE (pp. 137-160). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. PS 023 276.
Duncan, G., J. Brooks-Gunn, and P. Klebanov. (1994). Economic Deprivation and
Early Childhood Development. CHILD DEVELOPMENT 65(2, April): 296-318. EJ 483
Dunst, C., and C.M. Trivette. (1994). Aims and Principles of Family Support
Programs. In C. Dunst, C.M. Trivette, and A.G. Deal (Eds.), SUPPORTING AND
STRENGTHENING FAMILIES: VOL. 1 METHODS, STRATEGIES, AND PRACTICES (pp.30-48).
Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.
Gelles, R. (1989). Child Abuse and Violence in Single Parent Families: Parent
Absences and Economic Deprivation. AMERICAN JOURNAL OF ORTHOPSYCHIATRY 59:
Powell, D.R. (1994). Evaluating Family Support Programs: Are We Making
Progress? In S.L. Kagan and B. Weissbourd (Eds.), PUTTING
FAMILIES FIRST: AMERICA'S FAMILY SUPPORT MOVEMENT AND THE CHALLENGE OF CHANGE, (pp. 442-470). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. PS 023 276. Public Agenda. (1994). FIRST THINGS FIRST: WHAT AMERICANS EXPECT FROM THE
PUBLIC SCHOOLS. New York: Author.
Roberts, R.N., and B.H. Wasik. (1990). Home Visiting Programs for Families
with Children Birth to Three: Results of a National Survey. JOURNAL OF EARLY
INTERVENTION 14(3, Summer): 274-284. EJ 420 056.
Seitz, V., and N. Apfel. (1994). Parent-Focused Intervention: Diffusion
Effects on Siblings. CHILD DEVELOPMENT 65(2): 677-683. EJ 483 938.