Mutual self-help parent groups

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Mutual self-help groups for parents are widely used as a means of providing support to parents. In 2006 Mary Kay Flaconer from the Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida wrote a paper looking at the rationale for these types of programs and briefly discussed evaluations of some programs [1]. In this post I’ll provide an overview of the paper, but I’d encourage you to look at the original paper for more detail.

While the groups are normally organised by a family or community worker, the focus is on mutual support between peers where parents “give as well as receive help” (p. 1). The basic premise is that “those who help others also benefit” (p. 1).

Falconer suggests that the rationale behind mutual self-help groups for parents is built on eight justifications.

  1. The understanding and prevention of child abuse and neglect often refers to a theoretical or conceptual model that incorporates neighborhood factors and the interaction between the family, the neighborhood and the community” (p. 3). Models like the Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory emphasise the multiple environments that influence children and their families. Parent support groups can help building connections between families, and between families and the community.
  2. Mutual self-help parent support groups address a key child abuse and neglect risk factor, social isolation” (p. 6). Addressing social isolation is often an important component of children and parenting support programs [2-4] and parent support groups can help to build social connection.
  3. Parent support groups are versatile as a service or therapeutic approach” (p. 6). They can be run in a range of contexts and with a range of families; they can cover a wide range of issues, and they can be short-term to ongoing.
  4. Mutual self-help support groups embrace the importance of cultural competence and respect” (p. 7). As parent support groups easily be adapted to different cultural contexts, particularly because participants are encouraged to take ownership of the groups.
  5. Empowerment of parent participants is a goal for parent support groups” (p. 7). Empowerment can be both a process and an outcome in these type of groups.
  6. The potential for a lower program cost per participant is also a strength of parent support groups” (p. 8). In particular, participants are encouraged to take leadership roles which mean that they often only need one staff member, and they can often draw on existing community resources.
  7. The mutual self-help support groups are inclusive” (p. 8). Groups can involve a wide range of families, and the strengths and expertise of people (who are often seen as just clients) can be recognised.
  8. There are many specific parenting challenges that can be addressed in these groups” (p. 8). They have been used in a wide range of context and for families facing a wide range of issues.

Mutual self-help parent support groups are an important component of a number of evidence based programs – Falconer briefly discusses Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) and Parents as Teachers (p. 10-11). She also discusses three stand along programs (pp. 11-13) before discussing data from the evaluation of Circle of Parents (pp. 13-22).

As with many programs it is important to be clear about the rationale for, and aim of, offering mutual self-help parent support groups and to critically reflect the impact they are having and how appropriate they are for the specific context you are working in.

This post came from a project I’m working on supporting nine children and parenting support programs in regional and rural NSW to enhance their capacity to implement evidence-based programs and practice. The project was funded by the Department funded by the Department of Social Services through the Children and Families Expert Panel. You can see other posts relating to this work at

If you liked this post please follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:Some good articles/links

  1. Some good articles/links – mutual self-help parent support groups
  2. Some good articles/links – evidence-based practice
  3. Some good articles/links – engaging ‘hard to reach’ families
  4. Playgroups as a foundation for working with hard to reach families
  5. A resilience practice framework by the Benevolent Society
  6. 9 principles for supporting families and communities


  1. Falconer, M.K., Mutual Self-Help Parent Support Groups in the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. 2006, Tallahassee: The Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida.
  2. Horton, C. Protective factors literature review: Early care and education programs and the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Retrieved from Center for the Study of Social Policy website:, 2003.
  3. Pion-Berlin, L., et al. Parents Anonymous Evidence Supports the Strengthening Families Approach. Research Profile, (3). Retrieved from Parents Anonymous website:, 2013.
  4. FRIENDS National Resource Centre for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention The Role of Parent Mutual Support. FRIENDS FactSheet, (17). Retrieved from FRIENDS National Resource Centre for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention website:, 2008.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Families & parenting and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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