Holding Hands: Evaluating Quantitative Outcomes and Parental Perceptions
Hamlin, Beth Lauren
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Background: Behaviour difficulties are one of the commonest problems for which parents seek professional advice. Behaviour difficulties in early childhood are associated with poorer educational and social outcomes in later life (Loeber & Dishion, 1983). The importance of early intervention and preventative work to support behaviour difficulties has been stressed in the literature and is a priority in the government’s strategy for promoting positive outcomes for children. It is now generally accepted that parenting programmes (PPs) are an effective mechanism for supporting children with behaviour difficulties. A review of the literature suggests that while there are numerous evaluations of PPs there is limited evidence of PPs that are successful outside of a clinic setting and even less evidence on particular aspects of PPs and how parents view them. Aims: The main aim of this research was to explore a community based PP (the Holding Hands Group Programme (HHGP)) in terms of both its outcomes and the perceptions of the parents involved. The aim of paper one was to investigate whether families who undergo the HHGP, notice any improvement in child behaviour, parental stress and parental confidence. A second aim was to compare the HHGP to the previously evaluated Holding Hands Individual Programme (HHIP). The aim of paper two was to examine the process elements of the Holding Hands Group Programme (HHGP), seeking new insights and a detailed descriptive portrayal of how parents experience the HHGP. Methods: The study utilised a pragmatic approach to evaluation, with mixed methods and differing methodologies. Paper 1 involved a fixed quasi-experimental design using a pre-test, post-test single group evaluation. Outcome data was gathered from 34 parental responses to a range of psychometric measures completed on each of three occasions. Paper 2 involved semi-structured interviews being carried out with 15 parents prior to, and on completion of, the HHGP. The interviews focused on parent’s experiences of the programme and what they liked/disliked. Results: Paper 1: At the start of the HHGP parents typically reported high levels of intensity of behaviour, behaviour that was a problem and stress levels. They also reported low levels of parental confidence. By the end of the HHGP parents reported significantly increased confidence and significantly reduced stress, intensity of behaviour and behaviour that was problem. These positive results were maintained beyond the end of the programme as indicated at follow-up meetings. The findings indicate that the HHGP was effective for all identified subgroups of the sample. These findings broadly mirror the findings of the evaluation of the HHIP, although results do show some significant differences between the HHIP and the HHGP. Paper 2: The interviews conducted with fifteen parents were analysed using a rigorous approach to thematic analysis to identify emerging themes. Six themes were identified from parental accounts: support, new knowledge, reconstructing, awareness, changes and interactions. Alongside these themes was a practical element about ‘what worked’. Prior to the HHGP parents gave detailed descriptions about the difficulties that they were experiencing with their child, were able to identify what they wanted to achieve through the group and seemed able to predict what might be useful to them. After the sessions parents discussed what they had gained from taking part and were able to give suggestions for what had caused any changes. Extensions and Implications: On methodological grounds it would be desirable to undertake further work with either a control group, or baseline wait list. A further extension would be to use a longer follow up period or to contact the current participants to see how this cohort is coping when they start school. This study relied on self report data, therefore future work could consider the use of videoing interactions. It would also be useful to extend the interview process to include the follow up period. The results of this study imply that PPs can be delivered effectively to groups in non-clinic settings, and this suggests a route to more cost-effective delivery of PPs. However, as the results indicate that the HHGP was not successful for all, it reminds us that practitioners need to be vigilant in attempting to identify those families that are not helped and flexible in trying to assist them in other ways - perhaps via booster sessions or through the use of self-guided written materials.
Doctorate of Educational, Child and Community Psychology