California State University, Northridge has received nearly $1.18 million from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to develop an online social network for parents in an effort to reduce the mistreatment of children.
The grant was awarded to Susan Love, a professor in Cal State Northridge’s Department of Social Work, who is developing an online community that would engage parents who are struggling with their roles as parents with an online community based on Triple P—Positive Parenting Program. Triple P views the development of a parent’s capacity for self-regulation as central to successful parenting—teaching parents the skills that enable them to become independent problem solvers.
“Our objective is to reduce risky family environments by improving parenting practices. The outcome of that is healthy child development and families that provide a positive environment for their children,” Love said.
An online community would be readily available for those parents who do not have the means or the time to visit parenting support facilities. It also increases access to parents who have been stigmatized or live in communities without scientifically tested interventions.
“Everyone seems to have access to a smart phone or a computer, whether it’s at home or at the local library,” Love said. “We want to make access to good parenting practices as easy as possible for those who need it, whether they live in an urban or rural setting. Some people work at odd hours or are juggling too many responsibilities to make a set meeting location and time. Others may live too far way or don’t have the transportation. With this social network, those parents will have access to a very effective intervention program that they can access at a time that is good for them.”
Love said the online community will incorporate the practices of Triple P – Positive Parenting Program. Developed more than 30 years ago by Matt Sanders, a psychology professor at the University of Queensland, the program relies on self-regulation to help parents re-examine how they are raising their children and offers simple, straightforward advice on becoming resourceful, independent problem solvers who create a positive environment for their children. 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 over a long period of time, but rather provide them with information, learning activities and support over the course of a few weeks, laying the foundation for positive parenting practices.
Love said the online social network community would have a similar structure. It would be available in a 12-week cohort model. Skilled moderators would facilitate the parent moving through eight planned modules covering 17 core parenting principles. Additionally, the social network site will use gaming mechanics to encourage participation and mastery of positive parenting.
“The whole point is to provide the parents with the tools they need to make the right decisions for their families so that their children grow up in loving, supportive, healthy environments,” Love said. “These parents need to be able to learn to make good decisions for themselves, not be dependent on others.”
Sanders and colleagues developed Triple P by asking mothers what type of help they wanted most as they confronted issues associated with child rearing.
“The program is founded on basic principles,” Love said. “Parents need to be engaged. They need to mindfully raise their children, which means they need to decide what their children should be doing and make a plan to help their children achieve that goal in a nonviolent, non-coercive environment.”
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 30-month grant will pay for the creation of a prototype online community around Triple P and the beta-testing of its acceptability, usefulness and engagement of vulnerable families. It also will compare findings with previously conducted in-person and online Triple P studies. The whole process will involve about 100 families through two Los Angeles County nonprofits, Shields for Families and the Children’s Bureau. Joining Love in developing the online community are Sanders and CSUN social work professor Theresa Knott.
If the social network proves to be successful, Love is hoping the model can be replicated across the country, and even around the world, to help provide parents with the skills they need to be better parents.
“This is an exciting opportunity to explore a new way of delivering much needed resources to families,” Love said. “If this model is effective, it could have implications for health care delivery across the board. But right now, we’re focusing on how effective we can be in improving family environments, reducing child maltreatment, and promoting the emotional, social and behavioral outcomes of children.”