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Parents as Partners Programme
Awarded the Highest Rating of all Interventions

The Effectiveness of Couple Therapy
Our study shows improvments in relationships and mental health

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What is the Parents as Partners programme?

The Parents as Partners Programme is an evaluated, group work programme for parents who are struggling with conflict and stress in their parenting and relationships. This transformative programme, funded by the Department for Work and Pensions and operated in the UK by the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships with support from Family Action, is designed to support couples as they resolve relationship issues that affect their ability to parent their children effectively.

What is the link between UK’s Parents as Partners programme and the U.S.’s Schoolchildren and their Families Project?

Parents as Partners is essentially the same programme as the Schoolchildren and their Families Project which has been so extensively researched in the U.S (Cowan et al., 2005; Cowan et al., 2009; Cowan et al., 2011).

According to the developers of this project, Professors Phil and Carolyn Pape Cowan, of the University of California, Berkeley: “The Parents as Partners Programme uses the same 16-week curriculum as the Schoolchildren and their Families Project - which is essentially the same program as the Becoming a Family programme for new parents, and the Supporting Father Involvement programme for low-income parents. We have worked closely with the team in the UK to ensure that the Parents as Partners Programme maintains fidelity to the intervention approach that we have developed over the past 40 years."

As with the Schoolchildren and their Families Project, the Parents as Partners programme in the UK involves group sessions, attended by 5-8 couples, which are led by clinically trained male and female co-facilitators, with a manualized curriculum covering risk and protective factors associated with children’s wellbeing and behaviour problems (see Cowan et al., 2005 for details of curriculum).

Sessions are comprised of an open-ended, unstructured section for the first 20-30 minutes of the session, in which parents have the opportunity to raise family issues that may have emerged for them after the previous session, or that have occurred during the week. This is followed by a more structured discussion, exercises, and presentations around specific topics outlined in the curriculum for the remainder of each session. These topics are based on a multi-domain model of five factors which are associated with children’s wellbeing (individual well-being/distress, couple relationship quality, parenting and co-parenting quality, three-generational patterns, outside the family stressors/supports).

Fidelity to the Schoolchildren and their Families Project model

The Parents as Partners team in the UK have benefitted from the close support, and supervision of the Cowans in bringing their well evidenced model of working with parental couples in groups to the UK.

The Cowans’ experience in developing their core model across five clinical trials, including School Children and their Families, has helped to ensure fidelity in the Parents as Partners programme in the UK (in the manual, clinical practice, roll-out and training programme, supervision, and accreditation). 

What are the results so far of the Parents as Partners programme?

The latest analysis of TCCR’s Parents as Partners programme, based on 97 couples who attended the first 18 Parents as Partners groups, demonstrate how well the intervention has transferred to the UK context.

The results from these sixteen groups – which took place across six London boroughs (Camden, Islington, Lewisham, Southwark, Hackney, and Westminster), with a further two groups in Manchester – show that parents are reporting improvements on a host of family dimensions after attending group sessions. The latest findings are not only in line with emerging trends reported previously. Importantly, the results suggest that the Parents as Partners programme is having greatest impact on those most in need of support.

As expected, parents attending the Parents as Partners groups represent a vulnerable population. Questionnaire data collected before the start of group sessions shows that a significant proportion of parents report clinically relevant levels of general psychological distress, depression, and stress in relation to parenting. In addition, parents report poor quality couple relationships and levels of child emotional and behavioural difficulties above that which would be expected in the general population.

Domains in which Parents as Partners programme has produced improvements

  • quality of the couple relationship – greatest improvements in poor quality, high conflict relationships;
  • reduction in couple conflict (including disagreements about money, the children, time spent together) – greatest improvements in poor quality, high conflict relationships;
  • reduction in violent problem-solving;
  • improvements in psychological wellbeing;
  • reduction in children’s emotional and behavioural difficulties;
  • most striking improvements seen in children with the most problematic behaviours.

Statistical analysis comparing pre-group data with data collected at the end of group sessions (that is, after 16 weeks) indicates promising improvements on a number of indices. First, there were positive intervention effects with respect to parents’ relationship with one another. Both mothers and fathers reported an improvement in the quality of the couple relationship and mothers also reported a reduction in the amount of couple conflict (including disagreements about money, the children, time spent together). This is noteworthy given the well-documented decline in couple relationship quality over time. Furthermore, both mothers and fathers reported a significant decrease in the frequency of violent problem solving.

How can I find out more about introducing the Parents as Partners programme to my area?

Please contact Lucy Draper, Parents as Partners Programme Manager, at ldraper@tccr.org.uk or on 0207 380 6099.