Arizona State University researchers have developed a parenting-after-divorce program that has been found to substantially reduce behavior problems, mental health disorders and substance abuse among children whose parents have divorced.
They are now offering the program free to divorced or separated parents.
The program is available in several counties in Arizona, with 147 parents in Maricopa and Pima counties already participating.
ASU hopes to have about 1,000 parents participate over the next two years.
Over a million children experience the divorce of their parents each year, said Irwin Sandler and Sharlene Wolchik, psychology professors who are co-directors of this research at ASU’s Arizona Prevention Research Center.
While most children adapt well following divorce, they are at increased risk for a range of problems including mental health problems, substance abuse and poor school achievement.
Working since 1992, the two developed the New Beginnings Program, a parenting-after-divorce skill building program teaching positive parenting skills that can help parents build strong families following divorce.
They found that divorcing parents who take the program have children who experience fewer serious behavior and emotional problems, higher grades, higher self-esteem, less drug and alcohol use and less early sexual activity.
Their research showed that the improvements in children’s behavior were due to the parenting skills taught in the program.
Parents who participated in the program were more warm and affectionate and used more effective discipline. They also reported feeling less depressed.
In follow-up interviews, parents and children were still experiencing major benefits from taking part in the relatively short program, six and 15 years later.
“It shows that the quality of parenting can be taught in relatively brief skill-focused programs,” said Sandler.
“Parenting is a teachable skill which can make a substantial difference in the lives of children, and the changes can last and even grow over time.
“During a divorce parents are often very stressed and preoccupied, making it more difficult to parent well. In the program they learn effective listening, positive discipline methods and the importance of spending fun time with family and focused time with each child. It leads to more positive interactions and an increased sense of security for the child.
“We hope parents will think about how they can help their children adjust following a divorce, and call us to learn whether they are eligible for the program.”
The program is part of an evaluation funded by the National Institutes of Health and is presented in collaboration with family courts and social service agencies. The program is free of charge, in return for parents participating in an evaluation of the program.
Parents must agree to be randomly assigned to sessions lasting either two weeks or 10 weeks. Both versions of the program cover the same topics, but the longer version provides more opportunities to practice the skills presented in the program. Separate groups are offered for mothers and fathers.
Parents also must agree to participate in three telephone interviews as part of the evaluation.
To be eligible, parents must be divorced or separated from a spouse or domestic partner during the past two years, have children between the ages of 3 and 18, have a minimal level of regular contact with the children and not be remarried.
Parents who are interested in participating can call toll-free 855-531-0851 or visit http://nbpdivorce.org.
Sarah Auffret is a media relations specialist at Arizona State University.