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Family engagement

Why are family linkages important for addressing SRGBV?

Schools do not exist in social isolation. SRGBV is often a reflection of the wider social norms or expectations of behaviour modelled by parents and other family members. Some children may be targets of violence because of characteristics of their families, such as single-parent households, LGBTI families, minorities or having disabled parents. Understanding family make-up and dynamics can contribute to addressing and reducing children’s risk of facing SRGBV.

Furthermore, there is strong evidence that children who are exposed to violence in childhood – both as witnesses or as victims of abuse themselves – are more likely to use violence later in life. There is also some evidence, although less compelling, that exposure to violence in childhood increases girls’ risk of becoming victims of violence as they grow up.

Abuse and repeated exposure to violence in childhood can cause chronic stress, which can be toxic to the developing brain. Without adult support and protection, research has shown that toxic stress shapes the architecture of the brain as it develops and can lead to a lifetime of greater susceptibility to physical illness, as well as mental health problems including depression, anxiety disorder and substance abuse (Landers, 2013).

The research also suggests that types of violence and adversity in families frequently overlap, meaning that by addressing the family environments that put children at risk, programmes can create synergies that also tackle other types of violence (Heise, 2011).

Strengthening links with families is important for challenging values and norms around the acceptability of violence and gender inequalities or understanding the nature of risk a particular child faces, and therefore designing appropriate and locally acceptable mechanisms for preventing, reporting and referring SRGBV.

To date, there have been very few programmes to engage parents and families that have made the connections with SRGBV, particularly outside the US and a few other high-income settings. Programmes typically target parents who have abused or neglected their children, or who are at risk of doing so – few try to directly reduce conflict and abuse. Most parenting programmes involve home visits, are community-based or are implemented in health clinics – few have been based in education settings. Activities common to many parenting programmes include: individual counselling or group discussion; role play; videotape modelling of positive parenting behaviours; educational communications materials that model or guide positive behaviours; structured or guided play between mothers, fathers and their children (Fulu et al, 2014). Evaluations of the most widely adopted parenting programmes have tended to show mixed results, as can be seen from the country example of the Fast Track parenting programme. 

Triple P Positive Parenting Programme, Multi-country

The ‘Triple P’ Positive Parenting Programme is currently used in 25 countries, including Iran, Japan, Singapore and Romania. It aims to give parents simple and practical strategies to help them manage their children’s behaviour, prevent problems developing and build strong, healthy relationships. Triple P is delivered to parents of children up to 12 years, with Teen Triple P for parents of 12–16 year olds. There are also specialist programmes, for example, for parents going through separation or divorce, and indigenous parents in Australia.

Triple P works at multiple levels and in a range of settings, including in schools. For example, in the United States, state and local funding has been used to support Triple P when used in schools.

The programme has been evaluated by over 100 randomized control trials, with mixed results so far – perhaps not surprising given the complexity of Triple P, its diverse approaches and interventions. Evaluation findings so far include: 

  • Triple P reduces problem behaviour in children and improves parents’ parenting skills and well-being
  • Parents using Triple P say they are less stressed, less depressed and do not use harsh discipline
  • In communities where Triple P is widely available, children have fewer behavioural and emotional problems.

However, it should be noted that a recent systematic review and meta-analysis of 33 Triple P studies identified substantial problems in the quality of available evidence.

Source: Nowak and Heinrichs (2008); Sanders et al (2008); Wilson et al (2012)

 

Country example – Fast Track parenting programme, United States 

The Fast Track Prevention Project is a comprehensive, 10-year long intervention programme for children, teenagers and their parents in four demographically diverse sites in the US – Durham, North Carolina; Seattle, Washington; rural central Pennsylvania; and Nashville, Tennessee. Fast Track has several programme components, including teacher training, a classroom curricula, as well as interventions focusing on high-risk children and their families.

As part of Fast Track, parent training groups were established to promote the development of positive family–school relationships and to teach behaviour management skills to parents, particularly in the use of praise, time-out and self-restraint. Parents participated in family group meetings (5–22 sessions per year), 30-minute parent–child sharing sessions and bi-weekly home visits focusing on improving parenting skills.

Fast Track has been rigorously evaluated by several randomized control trials with cohort groups of intervention and control children, finding that:

  • Fast Track parents used harsh discipline less frequently than their control group counterparts
  • Fast Track children exhibited lower levels of aggressive behaviour at home and school compared to the control group – a trend that continued into adolescence
  • Fast Track children were arrested at lower levels in adolescence, compared to their control group peers
  • Fast Track children were less hyperactive and had fewer self-reported delinquent behaviours.

 However, some evaluations found that:

  • Fast Track children were more likely to be involved with ‘deviant’ peers than the control group
  • There was no impact on social skills, conduct or anti-social behaviour for the intervention group, although various evaluations found an impact when they looked at a ‘subgroup’ of the highest 3 per cent ‘at risk’ children of a population already considered ‘at risk’.

Source: Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group (2007); Greenberg (1998); Lochman et al (2010) 


 

Country example – The Incredible Years, Multicountry 

The Incredible Years programme has been used in schools and mental health centres in over 20 countries over the past 30 years. The long-term goal of the programme is to prevent violence, drug abuse and children’s aggressive behaviour problems. It consists of three complementary programmes targeting parents, teachers and children.

The parenting component has a range of programmes for different age groups: babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers and school-age children (6–12 years). It focuses on strengthening parent–child interactions, reducing harsh discipline and helping parents to develop strategies and skills to manage their children’s behaviour.

Several randomized control group trials have been conducted, with outcomes including:

  • reduced parental depression and stress
  • more positive family communication and less harsh discipline
  • increased parent–school involvement and more collaborative teacher–parent relationships
  • reductions in aggressive behaviour problems, particularly as a result of the parenting programmes with high-risk populations.

 Source: Menting et al (2013)