Program Outcomes for Parents & Families
Introduction to Parent/Family National Outcome Work Group (PaFaNOWG)
The Parent/Family National Outcome Work Group (PaFaNOWG) is part of USDA’s Children, Youth and Families At Risk (CYFAR) Initiative and State Strengthening Evaluation Collaboration. The PaFaNOWGers (as we affectionately refer to ourselves) are Cooperative Extension professionals working on parent/family programs at the land grant universities in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
The PaFaNOWG is committed to providing high quality evaluation tools, instruments and approaches and to strengthening collaboration throughout the CYFAR Initiative. The tools and evaluation instruments presented by the PaFaNOWG are offered in hopes of fostering a continuing dialogue among parent education and family resiliency researchers and practitioners about ways to improve and strengthen the evaluation of parent education and family resiliency programs. Please send your comments and questions to the facilitator of our group, June P. Mead, Program Evaluation Coordinator, Cornell Cooperative Extension Administration, Cornell University at firstname.lastname@example.org. You’ll be helping us to improve our site and hopefully stimulate linkages among our web site visitors.
The evaluation tools, instruments and resources presented here are based on two models, one focused on parent outcomes and the other on family outcomes. The parent model was developed by a team of Cooperative Extension parent education experts. It is called the “National Extension Parent Education Model” or NEPEM (Smith et al., 1994). The family model was developed by a number of researchers, and is known collectively as the “Characteristics of Strong, Healthy Families” model (Krysan et al., 1990).
NEPEM focuses on six parenting practices that are significant across
the life cycle. None of the practices targets parents with children
of a specific age. Rather, NEPEM recognizes that how parents attend to
their children’s unique development varies and would obviously change as
children grow into adolescents, teenagers and young adults. There
are six parent outcome areas under the NEPEM model. They are:
Stinnett (1983) defines family strengths are those relationship patterns, interpersonal skills and competencies, and social and psychological characteristics which create a sense of positive family identity, promote satisfying and fulfilling interaction among family members, encourage the development of the potential of the family group and individual family members, and contribute to a family’s ability to deal effectively with stress and crisis. There are nine family outcome areas under the “Characteristics of Strong, Healthy Families” model. They are:
For each of the designated parent and family components, you will find the following information:
Often parent/family researchers argue that prevention programs should target “high” risk populations in order to make the most efficient use of scarce resources. Numerous research studies have been undertaken to identify those risk factors most likely to result in negative outcomes for children who live in dysfunctional family settings–particularly those with predictive value during childhood. These risk factors include poor academic achievement, lack of social skills, emotional problems, antisocial behavior, substance abuse, exposure to drug-using parents, stressful life events, inconsistent family management practices, and poor bonding with parents (e.g., Block et al., 1988; Hawkins et al., 1986; Newcomb and Bentler, 1988; Kandel, 1990). Only recently have researchers turned their attention to understanding those parent skills and family assets that can offset risk and enhance protective mechanisms. In addition, the problem-focused approach or deficit model has been of limited value to parent and family resiliency educators whose work is conceived and implemented more broadly around asset building and empowerment models.
Today's parents and families face tremendous challenges. All too often, economic hardships force parents into making difficult choices, and leave little time for effective parenting. Job insecurity often fuels family disruption, separation and divorce. The growing number of single parents, many of them only teenagers themselves, face parenthood unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with the sometimes overwhelming challenge of raising and nurturing their children. Indeed, research has shown that economically deprived single mothers are more likely to physically abuse their children, and that family income and poverty are powerful predictors of child development.
Not surprisingly, the number of parent education and family resiliency programs is growing. While these programs may differ in their format or substance, there are common threads running through many of them. The theoretical basis underlying these programs calls for a focus on prevention and assets building; a recognition of the need to work with the entire family and within the community; a commitment to honoring cultural diversity; and a clear need for strengths-based needs analysis, planning and program evaluation (Trivette and Dunst, 1986). In practice, these underlying principles define today’s parent education and family resiliency programs.
In part, because parent education and family resiliency programs have grown rapidly in response to the need for them, tools to evaluate their effectiveness have lagged behind. To date, few scientifically rigorous studies of parent education and family resiliency programs have been undertaken. Most evaluations in this field of investigation rely solely on post-only participant satisfaction surveys, self-reports and/or anecdotal data. Many researchers recognize the need to improve evaluation methods in order to more accurately assess the effectiveness of parent and family programs.
Evaluations of parent and family programs can be challenging. Program practitioners and evaluators must often decide between technical rigor and feasibility. There are ethical considerations and decisions which often will preclude establishing traditional control and treatment groups. While few evaluations of parent education and family resiliency programs have used this classic design, increasing numbers have used “wait-list” control groups (where participants receive the program at a later time) or “comparison” groups (composed of people eligible for the program, but who do not participate). Some have suggested that a more rigorous test of prevention efforts would be to compare two prevention programs rather than comparing a program to a non-treatment alternative.
Rarely are Extension educators willing to deny treatment to parents or
families in order to create a non-treatment, control group simply for
the sake of “science.” We strongly encourage you to visit the State
Strengthening Evaluation Guide site and use the Guide in conjunction
with the instruments and measures presented here. The Guide offers
numerous useful suggestions for types of data to collect and ways to collect
data, noting the need to involve community partners in the evaluation
planning and implementation process from the very beginning.