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Research Review: Evaluation of 'What Works' in Parenting Support


The growth in parenting support programmes witnessed in recent years marks an increasing recognition of the potential benefits to individuals, families and the wider community derived from improving the quality of parenting that children receive. It also reflects a increasing understanding of the challenging nature of parenthood itself, a challenge that stems in part from the diverse range of contexts in which parenting takes place at a period of rapid social and demographic change. These contexts embrace economic, health, cultural, and religious dimensions, and involve single and dual parenting, step-parenting, teenage parenting, parenting of grandchildren, gifted children, excluded children and children in transition, to name but a few. Social care practice in this domain in the UK is firmly wedded, in principle at least, to developing evidence-based services. As a result, reliable reviews that distil the key evidence on what works are the key 'tools of the trade' for both policy and practice. The Family Policy Unit of the Home Office, therefore commissioned the Policy Research Bureau to carry out a review of what works in parenting support.

What did the research focus on?

Interventions that affect outcomes for children from birth to early adulthood was the main focus of the review, as well as outcomes for parents where they are likely to impact on children. In the UK today parenting support is provided by a variety of rather different service providers including CAMHS, social services, youth justice, education and the voluntary sector. It also involves a variety of different intervention types, including education or training, counselling, family therapy, advice and information giving. The review provides a summary of such programmes categorised in terms of 'what works', 'does not work', is 'promising', or 'unknown', and cover details such as for whom, under what circumstances, and at what cost. It also highlights areas for future research aimed at improving knowledge of what works in parenting programmes, including the identification of research issues that would further our knowledge of 'promising' programmes requiring additional investigation. Our aim was to produce a review that was both academically rigorous, but also accessible and tailored to the applied needs of policy makers and service planners.

What did the research involve?

The research involved collation and synthesis of a large body of published and unpublished literature concerning evaluated interventions that provide some form of support to parents. The literature was gathered by carrying out searches of electronic databases, following reference trails, and by contacting leading players in the field. Key studies were selected to be entered into a grid providing a summary of information about individual interventions. The methodological robustness of the evaluations was also rated. Through the analysis of the gathered information conclusions could be drawn about the key features that distinguish successful programmes from unsuccessful ones.

Timescale and final products of the research

The project ran for four months from February to June 2003. The main outputs from the project are an executive summary of key messages, and a main report describing the findings, and giving conclusions and recommendations for policy and practice.

The final report and Research Brief was published in September 2004

Moran P, Ghate D and van der Merwe A (2004) What Works in Parenting Support? A Review of the International Evidence. Research Report 574, London: Department for Education and Skills.

The full report and research brief are available on the DfES website.

Research Report:

Research Summary:

See Publications for further details.

Last updated September 2004