A collaborative effort by faculty at California State University, Northridge and The University of Queensland in Australia to develop an online social network to support vulnerable parents in California has won the prestigious Learning Innovation award from the Australian Institute for Training and Development.
The project enhances an evidence-based parenting program, Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, by adding social media features such as gaming technology and discussion boards to engage vulnerable parents. Triple P views the development of a parent’s capacity for self-regulation as central to successful parenting; it teaches parents the skills that enable them to become independent problem solvers.
“This project was a collaborative across three continents—Australia, France and America—and took over a year to develop,” said Susan Love, a professor in CSUN’s Department of Social Work and principal investigator of the project.
Love noted that the project, funded by a $1.18 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, would not have happened without “the technology of Skype.”
“The whole point is to provide parents with the tools they need to make the right decisions for their families so that their children grow up in loving, supportive and healthy environments; the developmental context for a positive social, emotional, behavioral and health trajectory,” Love said. “Furthermore, parents need to be able to learn to make good decisions for them, and not to be dependent on others.”
A prototype of the project has just been completed with parents in Compton and Hollywood.
“These families are very poor,” said Karen Turner, deputy director of the Parenting and Family Support Centre at The University of Queensland. “Three-quarters of the parents are on an income of less than $15,000 per year and most are relying on food stamps. A quarter of them have children placed in foster care, more than half are single parents and 40 percent have been in jail.”
Despite some technical issues with getting broadband connections in the community agencies that serve the families, Turner said the parents involved in the project “loved it.”
The Triple P – Positive Parenting Program has been tested in more than 100 scientifically rigorous trials (16,500 parents), multiple meta-analyses and a few population-level studies. The program has been hailed by child-rearing experts around the world and is currently implemented in 26 countries, including the United States. Triple P is not designed to work with parents during a long period of time, but rather provide them with information, practice strategies and support over the course of a few weeks to lay a foundation for positive parenting practices that last a lifetime.
Love said the online community has a similar structure. It is available in a 12-week cohort model. Skilled moderators facilitate parents moving through eight modules that cover 17 core parenting principles. The network uses gaming mechanics to encourage participation and mastery of positive parenting skills.
“What we learn from the present study will help to design an online Triple P option for implementation into the Affordable Care Act as an indicated prevention model,” Love said. “This is an exciting opportunity to explore a new way of delivering much needed resources to families, in a format that parents want.”