To reach parents in a culturally sensitive way we first need to listen to the local community

More than 90 per cent of the world’s children and families live in low- and middle-income countries.

So how do we reach them in a culturally sensitive way?

In our project in Panama, we tested the efficacy of Triple P Discussion Groups with 108 parents from six high-risk, low-resource neighborhoods.

Even though the intervention was delivered in its original form, “intuitive” cultural adaptations took place during delivery.

For example, we started sessions with an ice breaker activity, we worked with local facilitators and used local jargon when giving examples.

I come from a family of social workers in Panama and so my passion has always been to support families living in poverty.  But to help them in a respectful way, I firstly needed to understand what is it like to live and raise a child in a high-risk neighbourhood.

I also wanted others around the world to understand the experiences of families living in poverty.  I was pretty sure that images would speak louder than any words.

The idea then was to film a short documentary in collaboration with two mothers from San Joaquin.

San Joaquin is a high-risk community in Panama City recognized as the epicenter of violence and home to the deadliest gangs in the country.  This 10-minute documentary follows the life of Cecilia and Dora, two mothers who also took part in the Triple P intervention.  It’s interesting to see how both mothers show great resilience in their discourse even though they are facing daily adversity.

Filming this documentary made me understand the importance of using collaborative approaches to increase engagement of community members with new interventions.  This documentary allowed me to give voice to mothers who would otherwise not have any platform to speak up.  They felt as if they were active participants disseminating results from the project and became the main advocates for it.  Participatory research such as this increases ownership, sustainability and ensures interventions fit local needs and culture.

Using this work in Panama as a case example, and in collaboration with other researchers at the Parenting and Family Support Centre at the University of Queensland, I’m currently involved in developing and testing models to approach new communities in a collaborative, participatory way.

We feel it’s important that programs are sustainable once they have been introduced into a new community. In order to do this, we’re exploring models or ways to listen to the community and learn about its local history.

By doing this, we hope to understand how local people who want to bring about change in those communities would like to deliver the program, rather than imposing change from the top down.

We are developing guidelines to conduct cultural engagement in a systematic manner.  These guidelines will provide “conceptual lenses” to practitioners and researchers delivering and implementing Triple P in any context or culture worldwide, such as with families in low- and middle-income countries, refugee parents and Indigenous communities in Australia.

And in turn, we hope to give the voice of change back to the community.

Note: All participants provided written informed consent for the dissemination of this footage for academic purposes.

For more information on the RCT:  Mejia, A., Calam, R., & Sanders, M.R. (2015).  A pilot randomized controlled trial of a brief parenting intervention in low resource settings in Panama. Prevention Science. DOI: 10.1007/s11121-015-0551-1