Training Matters


Vol. 6, No. 1 • December 2004

Parenting Classes and Child Welfare in North Carolina

Every day, judges and social workers in North Carolina and across the United States refer parents to parenting classes. They do so in the hopes of making families more harmonious and children safer. If the family is receiving child welfare services, often attendance at these classes is compulsory. If parents don’t successfully complete the class, they may increase their risk of losing their children.

Clearly, parenting classes are very important to our child welfare system. Despite this fact, like most states, North Carolina has no system for delivering parenting education. In some communities parenting classes are offered by a great many disconnected organizations, including hospitals, senior centers, family resource centers, United Ways, YWCAs, PTAs, and various civic groups (NCPEN, 2004).

The courses offered by these many groups often have different approaches and philosophies, target audiences, and goals. Some courses have been evaluated and proven to be effective, others have not. Most are taught by qualified parenting educators, but not all. The number and availability of courses varies significantly across the state, especially when you compare urban and rural counties.

In the absence of a statewide system, it falls to each local county department of social services to oversee the parenting classes prescribed for the families it serves. On their own—there is no state child welfare policy related to parenting classes—county DSS’s must ensure there are parenting classes in their communities and that these classes are accessible to their clients, appropriate to their needs, and effective.

Agencies shoulder this tremendous responsibility every day. In an effort to make this less of a challenge, Training Matters offers the following.

Sound Advice
Few people know more about parenting education in North Carolina than Dr. Karen DeBord. An Associate Professor at NC State University and a State Cooperative Extension Specialist, DeBord has provided leadership to state and national groups and written extensively about the topic of parenting education. Her advice to county DSS’s about parenting classes includes the following:

Good Instructors Are Essential. “When parents come to that first mandated class they are often so angry,” DeBord says. “They are dealing not only with the humiliation and stigma of being made to come to a class on parenting, but sometimes with the pain of having lost their child.” These feelings often cloud parents’ abilities to learn. To save face, often all they will want to do is go through the motions, get their certificate, and get out.

To get past this obstacle, agencies should look for an instructor who can recognize what parents are feeling, engage them, and build their trust.

Build the Course Around What Parents Want. DeBord says that one of the best ways to overcome resistance is to begin each parenting course by asking parents what they want to learn about. “Even if you have a curriculum you want to offer, it is best to begin by soliciting advice from the parents. “The expert model,” DeBord says, “creates barriers.”

Effective Courses
If you decide to offer a formal parenting curriculum, you will find there are MANY to choose from. Here are some that studies have shown to be effective. Excepts are from the July/August 2004 issue of the CB Express.

Parents as Teachers (PAT)
Audience: Parents of young children, esp. teen mothers

Emphasis: Imparting knowledge about brain research and child development. The course emphasizes certain points in a child’s development. “Parents learn what to expect at each stage, from pregnancy to kindergarten.”

Benefits: PAT has been shown to be particularly helpful with teen mothers. PAT children have significantly better school readiness scores, compared to other comparable groups of children.

Availability: There are 85 PAT programs active in North Carolina. To find the program nearest you, go to <> and select “find a program.”

Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY)
Audience: Parents of young children

Description: “Parents in the community are trained as educators who then visit the homes of the families enrolled in HIPPY. During their weekly visits, the educators bring books and other materials and help the parents work with their 3- to 5-year-old children on school readiness skills. Educators also are trained to help parents navigate other services that might be helpful for them and their children.”

Availability: Not currently offered in North Carolina, according to <>.

The Parent Project
Audience: Parents of school-aged children and teenagers

Description: “Parents attend the 10-week course to learn about the dangers that teens face and to learn skills to supervise their own teenagers. This program has become popular throughout the nation and is now the largest court-mandated or juvenile diversion program in the country.”

Availability: Not offered in North Carolina, according to <>.

Finding Parenting Classes in North Carolina
NC Cooperative Extension Service. Every county cooperative extension service has someone in the office whose job it is to be an information provider and education partner to the community around parenting education (among other things). Consult the phone book or visit <>

NC Parenting Education Network. This organization offers professional recognition to parenting educators. To access its listing of credentialed parenting educators in North Carolina, go to <>

The Parenting Institute. This Winston-Salem-based nonprofit helps communities across NC find qualified parenting instructors, promote and offer parenting classes, and develop their own stable, sustainable parent education resources. Its website ( features a statewide directory of parenting education professionals and other resources.

Additional Information (Not Found in Print Edition)

Importance of Engaging Parents
The following is excerpted from a 2004 report by the Centers for Disease Control:
"Traditionally, child maltreatment prevention efforts have focused on parenting interventions. The success of the intervention, however, may depend on its ability to engage and retain parents. Thirty to eighty percent of families most at risk for child maltreatment actually complete prevention programs. Even when families attend programs, they do not always adopt changes or maintain their skills. Up to 50% of families may still be at risk for child maltreatment when services end. Even effective programs have limited impact if they are unable to reach, engage, and retain prospective participants."

Effectiveness of Behavioral Parent Training
The following, excerpted from a 2004 report by the Centers for Disease Control, describes the general category into which some of the most effective parenting education programs fall:
“Behavioral Parent Training (BPT) first appeared in the scientific literature in the 1960s and increased in prominence in the 1970s. BPT promotes systematic, data-based positive parent-child interactions and aims to improve child management skills and other parenting skills. BPT has been shown to be effective in changing parents’ and children’s behavior and has been increasingly used in empirically-based programs for child maltreatment prevention. Recent evaluations with maltreating and at-risk families suggest that well-designed and well-implemented BPT programs result in lower child maltreatment recidivism rates than alternative programs.”

Fathers and Parenting Classes
The following is excerpted from Harris (2000):
“Traditional parent and family educators must work actively to include the voices of fathers and incorporate male perspectives into parent and family education programming. Taking an androgynous perspective on parenthood sounds good in theory, but in practice, it has meant using a female model of good parenting. Fathers and mothers come to parent education programs with different backgrounds, needs, and goals, and recognizing typical gender differences is important if programs are to be responsive to fathers’ needs.”

Mental Illness and Parenting Classes
A recent commentary the Atlanta-based Child Welfare Institute (CWI) suggests that some parents who repeatedly maltreat their children may have borderline personality disorders that: (a) are caused in part by their upbringing--thereby accounting for intergenerational patterns of abuse, and (b) that cause them to be unresponsive to traditional child welfare interventions, particularly parenting classes. Based on this information, the authors encourage child welfare agencies to train caseworkers to recognize the behavioral signs of personality disorders and to implement specific
assessments when multiple recurrences of child maltreatment are evident (Morton, 2004).

Parenting Classes for Adults with Cognitive Limitations
As described in Children's Services Practice Notes (vol. 9, no. 2),
child welfare agencies and others often encourage parents with developmental delays to attend the standard parenting classes offered in their communities. Sometimes these parents “make it” in these classes, in the sense that they can fulfill the attendance requirements and verbally repeat what they are taught. But ultimately they fail, since they cannot demonstrate the parenting skills in question because they are not taught in a way that enables them to learn. As a result, these parents often lose their children.

Child welfare workers owe it to these parents and their children to reach out to community partners to develop the resources these families need. Gaye Styron, CPS Treatment Program Manager with Wake County Human Services, suggests your local community college’s compensatory education program might be a good place to start. These programs, which serve adults with developmental delays, may be able to set up programs for child welfare-involved parents, or engage them in existing Comp Ed programs. In the context of North Carolina's Multiple Response System, which asks child welfare agencies to join with others to support families and keep children safe, this kind of collaboration makes perfect sense.

The Power of Parenting Education
The following is excerpted from Carter (1997):
"Discussions of parenting and family support tend to lead observers to assume that if we can somehow 'deal with these parents,' the long and troubling list of societal problems will disappear as a consequence. Parenting education will not solve the ravages of poverty, racism, or a demeaning welfare system. And one must be cautious about the complexity of causes that underlie issues like violence, substance abuse, and delinquency. At best, parenting education may offer a struggling parent the support needed to feel more capable and confident, which in turn can strengthen the ability to offer the gifts of love, health, and heritage to a child. This is the process through which that child can have a chance for success in life, but it does not assure it. Parenting education cannot change the world in which that child grows up; it can only strengthen his or her ability to survive and succeed in it."

References and Online Resources
Berrick, J. (1988). Parental involvement in child abuse prevention training: What do they learn? Child Abuse and Neglect, 12, 543–453.

Bowes, J. (2000). Response of parents to parent education and support programs: A review of evaluation research on some key USA programs. Paper presented at the Seventh Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference, Sydney, July, 2000.

Bryant, P. (1993). Availability of existing statewide parent education and support programs and the need for these programs nationwide. Chicago, IL: National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse.

Carter, N. (1997). See how we grow: A report on the status of parenting education in the U.S. Philadelphia, PA: Pew Charitable Trusts.

Centers for Disease Control. (2004). Using evidence-based parenting programs to advance efforts in child maltreatment prevention. Washington, DC: US Dept. of Health and Human Services.

Children’s Bureau Express. (2004). Parenting program successes. US Dept. Health and Human Services. <>

Children's Services Practice Notes. (2003). Child welfare practice with parents who have cognitive limitations. Chapel Hill, NC: UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work. <>

Debord, K., Heath, H., McDermott, D., & Wolfe, R. (1999). An overview of parenting education and family support. Family Support America. <>

Harris, K. E. (2000). A father’s guide to parenting: Building a program of education and support for fathers. America’s Family Support Magazine, 18(4), 39-41. <>

Kirkwood, S. (2004). Teach your parents well. Children’s Voice. (May/June). <>

Marziali, E., Damianakis, T., & Trocmé, N. (2003). Family challenges: Nature and consequences of personality problems in maltreating caregivers. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, 84(4) 530-538. <>

Morton, T. (2004). Deciphering families who repeatedly maltreat their children. Ideas in Action (June 2004). <>

Wolfe, R. B. (2000, April). Parenting education through the lens of family support. Presented at the Family Resource Coalition of America National Conference, Chicago, IL. <>

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