‘We need to turn wishful thinking to help the lives of children into a public funding priority to support the skills of parents’

In a world where the well-being of children is a priority, preparing for parenting would become something people aspire to, not something associated with stigma, Professor Matt Sanders, founder of the Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, told delegates at this year’s Helping Families Change Conference in The Netherlands.

In such a world, evidence-based parenting programs would become a policy priority for governments and be funded accordingly because parents had demanded that it be so.

“The single most important thing we as a community we can do to promote the well-being of children and reduce child maltreatment is to increase the skills, confidence and competence of parents at a whole-of-population level,’’ Professor Sanders said in his keynote address to the 17th annual HFCC at the historic Beurs Van Berlage building in the heart of Amsterdam.

Professor Sanders said that when thinking about the evolution of the body of knowledge needed to support a public health approach to providing parenting support, it was important to realise that building an evidence base was not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

That marathon has been gathering momentum and pace over the past decade as more and more researchers around the world look at ways to improve the lives of children and families through interventions such as Triple P.

“The Triple P evidence base is a hugely expanding knowledge base which continues to grow,’’ Professor Sanders said.

Matt Sanders

Professor Matthew Sanders

“Since 2006, there has been a 680 per cent increase on the number of publications per year. At last count, a total of 776 researchers had contributed to 588 papers on Triple P from 244 research institutions. This includes 382 theoretical or conceptual papers, 206 evaluation papers and 104 RCTs.’’

There have been 38 service-based evaluations of Triple P and, across all categories, the number of and percentage of papers with a null finding has been 11 (five per cent).

Of those null findings, 64 per cent involved developers of the program. And of the positive findings, 45 per involved researchers independent of the development of the program.

“But are there yet? No, we are not,’’ Professor Sanders said. “There are many things we still have to do to improve our body of knowledge, such as how we can reach more families who are likely to benefit.

“Having universal services is no guarantee that families who require interventions will participate.
We must never stop the search to improve the quality of interventions that are required and that includes being prepared to reconsider the core principles of the program.’’

These population trials take a public-health approach to the provision of parenting support and apply these principles to at risk or vulnerable populations.

Professor Sanders said that in Australia, the Parenting and Family Support Centre at the University of Queensland was just about to launch a major new population trial focusing on 28 of the most disadvantaged communities in Australia as part of a study looking at ways of breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

“We are looking to help children who have grown up in families who, across multiple generations, have never known work,’’ Professor Sanders said.

“These children are hugely disadvantaged so a large-scale population trial applying population logic but targeting socially disadvantaged sectors and communities is the focus of this work.

“Also, a population roll out is taking place in 3 Australian states of the Stepping Stones multi-level system of support and providing this as a service to children with a disability.

“These population trials take a public-health approach to the provision of parenting support and apply these principles to at risk or vulnerable populations.

“We have known for some time that we have the knowledge and tools to effect amazing changes in populations of people if we apply what we knows actually works.’’

Professor Sanders’ presentation at HFCC 2015 can be viewed here.