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Sometimes a light touch is all it takes: Triple P Seminars show benefits for Indonesian parents and their children

A randomised controlled trial involving Indonesian parents has shown a low-intensity parenting program can significantly improve children’s behavioural problems and parents’ confidence while reducing dysfunctional parenting practices and parents’ stress.

The delivery of the Triple P seminar series to 143 parents in Surabaya, Indonesia, is the first study to show that an evidence-based parenting program can be both effective and culturally acceptable for Indonesian parents.

It is also the first to show that a light-touch intervention can be effective in a developing country and one of only a few studies worldwide to have done so, regardless of the level of the intervention.

The Triple P – Positive Parenting Program takes a population health approach to parenting support with a multi-level system of programs available, from light-touch programs to more intensive, treatment-based approaches.

Professor Matt Sanders, director of the Parenting and Family Support Centre, said the finding was further support for a central tenet of this population approach, the principle of minimal sufficiency.

“We now have a significant body of work that shows that families, whether they are in Indonesia, China, Japan, or Australia, can derive real benefit from having parenting support that is adjusted and delivered in a dose that is appropriate to their needs,’’ Professor Sanders said.

“These were families with moderate problems yet the program still showed effects. It shows that reaching large numbers of parents with a low-intensity program that is both cost-effective and time-efficient is a practical as well as a particularly effective preventative health approach to take in low-resource settings.’’

A graduate of The University of Queensland’s Parenting and Family Support Centre, Dr Agnes Sumargi, currently a lecturer with Widya Mandala Catholic University in Surabaya, conducted significant research work in the lead up to publication of this study in the journal, Child Psychiatry and Human Development.

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Dr Agnes Sumargi.

An initial survey of 273 Indonesian parents living in Indonesia and Australia conducted in 2013 indicated that Indonesian parents often struggle with ineffective parenting practices such as making children apologise for misbehaviour, lecturing or shouting. And a large majority (78 per cent) said if help was available they would attend a parenting program.

In 2014, Dr Sumargi trialled the 90-minute Triple P seminar, The Power of Positive Parenting, with 30 Indonesian parents living in Australia. She delivered the seminar in Indonesian and results of the pilot showed the program was both culturally acceptable and likely to lead to less emotional and behavioural problems in children and less permissive parenting styles.

Then, in the randomised controlled trial published last year, Dr Sumargi invited Surabayan parents of a typically developing child between the ages of 2-12 years to attend the three 90-minute Triple P seminars: The Power of Positive Parenting, Raising Confident, Competent Children, and Raising Resilient Children, once a week. The seminars were delivered in Indonesian and most parents (88 per cent) attended all three seminars.

Dr Sumargi, and co-authors A/Prof Kate Sofronoff and A/Prof Alina Morawska, of the Parenting and Family Support Centre, point out this trial shows that a brief parenting program should now be tested with a wider audience in a community setting.

“Holding the seminar series in community sites, such as child care centres, schools, health care centres and religious sites may be especially beneficial as it can increase parents’ accessibility to and participation in the program.’’

They also suggest that not all parents require an intensive level of intervention, and this research demonstrates that providing a brief parenting program is effective for parents from diverse cultures.