A mother interacting with her daughter as part of TOSTAN's Reinforcement of Parental Practices Module, where by applying the knowledge gained during the Reinforcement of Parental Practices Module, parents and community members will give children an excellent start in their social, linguistic, and emotional growth. This healthy development will in turn lead to more children staying in and excelling in school, and improve child parent relationship.

June 20, 2024 Many organizations working on the parenting agenda face a common challenge: how to scale parenting support programs to expand access while maintaining high-quality interventions and ensuring sustainable funding. To address this issue, share insights from various countries and political systems, and brainstorm solutions, the Global Initiative to Support Parents (GISP) has organized a Community of Practice comprising partners working on the parenting agenda at the country level. The lessons learned from discussions within this community of practice are invaluable. In honor of Parenting Month this June, we share strategies and insights to inspire and inform others working in the field.

What Do We Mean by Scaling Parenting Support? 

Scaling parenting support means deliberately expanding and embedding successful parenting interventions to benefit a larger population and ensure long-term impact. This involves assessing the intervention’s readiness for broader application, developing strategies for its adoption and expansion, and ensuring its sustainability. Two primary pathways for effective scaling are vertical scale-up, which integrates the intervention into policies, systems, and institutional structures, and horizontal scale-up, which expands the intervention to new locations and populations. Successful scaling requires a combination of both approaches to achieve widespread reach and lasting impact for families and children.

8 Strategies for Scaling Parenting Support

At a fundamental level, scaling requires government ownership, as the government possesses the capacity to reach more families, the necessary infrastructure, and funding. As such, it is crucial to strategically engage governments from the start so you can develop a plan to systematically transition programmatic ownership and funding to the government. This will require active, effective, and sustained advocacy. 

While the pathway to scale will vary across countries and contexts, the Community of Practice identified these core strategies as critical to developing programmatic efficiency and securing the political will necessary to expand access and mobilize sustainable funding.  

1. Scale models based on previously tested interventions

Scaling models or strategies should be built upon a solid foundation of evidence. Before scaling up any intervention, it's imperative to thoroughly evaluate and understand its effectiveness, so evidence generation should be integrated into the program design. In an ideal scenario, the evidence should be supported by rigorous research studies demonstrating its measurable success in preventing maltreatment and improving parent-child relationships, along with positive changes in parent/caregiver knowledge, attitudes and practices, and child development outcomes. By learning from past successes and failures, program implementers can refine their strategies and ensure that resources are invested in interventions with the highest potential for impact.

2. Know your data

Data should not only inform service delivery, but they should also inform your messaging and advocacy resources. Be ready to share data that can speak to return on investment, cost per participant, and outcomes achieved. At the least, be ready to share what it will cost to scale the program. Understand where the data gaps are and work with funders and partners to address them.

3. Develop an influencing and engagement plan with a range of key messages for different target audiences

Understanding how to frame parenting support in a way that will resonate with different stakeholders is a critical component of building political will within governments. Technical staff within the Ministry of Health will receive, interpret, and value your message differently from someone within the Ministry of Finance. Write out your key messages and develop advocacy resources like one-pagers that integrate data on your program’s effectiveness and scalability readiness and adjust your messaging to different audiences. If possible, demonstrate in the one-pager how your parenting support aligns with the ministry’s mission and strategic plan. Also, assess and analyze your advocacy targets to understand what messages, messengers, and data resonate with them. You can adapt these key messages developed by UNICEF to your specific needs and context.

4. Recruit champions in government and develop a deep bench

Policy champions can help you navigate complicated government processes, recruit supporters, offer information and intel, build awareness inside and outside of government, and play many other important roles depending on the political system. The importance of developing champions in government emerged many times from partners involved with the Community of Practice. However, just as important is the need to develop a cadre of champions at different levels of government (national and subnational, ministerial and technical) to protect yourself from turnover and changes in leadership. Several Community of Practice members shared experiences of developing critical champions only to have them leave governments, requiring them to completely start over.

5. Build capacity within government

It is crucial to strengthen the skills, resources, and processes that enable the relevant government departments or institutions to effectively and efficiently scale the parenting support program. This can be done by offering continuous training programs and workshops to relevant government employees to enhance their skills and knowledge on parenting support and program delivery. It is also useful to support the government partner(s) to develop clear and effective organizational structures with defined roles and responsibilities regarding the scaling of the parenting support, and to offer support for implementing robust data management systems to enable evidence-based decision-making. Government capacity building can also prove a valuable way to develop champions in government.

6. Embed parenting support programs within adjacent agendas and delivery systems

Parenting support is typically not a high enough policy priority to stand on its own. As a result, program operators and advocates must consider how to embed parenting support within broader policy agendas (family-friendly policies, for example) that may already have dedicated funding as well as existing funding streams and delivery systems (such as through healthcare services). Depending on the political system, perhaps funding for parenting programs can be integrated into existing legislative or budget processes or attached to other legislation. Knowing the potential mechanisms for budget allocation and program delivery—and who the decision-makers are that oversee or have influence over them—will help you understand where the opportunities might be to embed parenting support.

7. Elevate the voices of parents and caregivers in all their diversity, and program operators

The most effective advocates for your work are those directly involved in the program. Community of Practice partners emphasized the importance of co-designing programs with parents and caregivers and creating opportunities for parents and caregivers, program operators, and government officials to engage with and learn from one another. This can be achieved through site visits, formal briefings or side events, and dedicated communication and social media campaigns. Children and young people also have agency and can be engaged in age-appropriate ways to meaningfully participate in programs and processes that impact them and their parents or caregivers.

8. Bring cake!

One partner shared how the simple effort of bringing cake to a meeting with key stakeholders opened the door to a deeper discussion and eventually a new government commitment. Never underestimate the power small gestures can have to bring people together.

Global Initiative to Support Parents (GISP) | Scaling Parenting Support: Tips From Country Practitioners

Further Advice from Community of Practice on Scaling Parenting Support

While this blog represents ideas and strategies that have emerged from our initial discussions with the Community of Practice, below are additional ideas directly from partners that have participated in those meetings.

Nicole Rodger, Global Policy and Advocacy Lead, ECD, Plan International

Ensure that your parenting/caregiving programs include a gender lens, considering the potential for gender norm change and gender equality.

Parenting/caregiving programs are commonly designed, implemented, and scaled with women parents/caregivers in mind. This is because, in most countries and communities, women are largely or exclusively responsible for caring for and raising children. Parenting/caregiving programs that go to scale must always be cognizant of their potential to promote gender-equal relationships, shared decision-making, improved couples’ communication and non-violence, and changes to gender norms, roles, and stereotypes (or they risk actually reinforcing gender inequality). Ultimately, parenting/caregiving programs are a key entry point for transforming gender socialization processes and gendered relationships and roles within communities and societies. This means that all parenting programs need to involve work at multiple levels, with multiple actors, and use different strategies to promote gender equality in and through parenting, including changing gendered attitudes and norms around men’s engagement in nurturing care.  

Technology is not a silver bullet, but it can support scale-up

Increasingly, parenting programs are leveraging technology to support vertical and horizontal scale-up. This includes hybrid approaches that include both face-to-face and tech approaches. Although technology offers opportunities for further reach and engagement, tech solutions can also be expensive and it’s important to understand the risks. Don’t make assumptions about peoples’ technology use and access, digital skills, and literacy. It is also important to understand the gendered digital divide. Don’t reinvent the wheel or build bespoke solutions that need maintenance and ongoing IT support. Instead, consider using existing platforms for content and messaging that are already available in the context (e.g. WhatsApp, SMS, voice, radio, etc.). The Principles for Digital Development can be applied to parenting program design, implementation, monitoring, and scale.

Design for scale, right from the start

Many parenting programs fail and are not able to be scaled up because they were not designed with scale in mind. We have learned that a combination of a top-down and bottom-up approach to parenting program design, implementation, and monitoring supports scale. This means that it is important to get government buy-in right from the start and plan how to integrate the program into existing systems. At the same time, working from the bottom up provides an opportunity to work directly at a local level with communities and the workforce (parenting facilitators, health workers and volunteers, government functionaries, etc.), to test and iterate, develop partnerships, and build evidence of effectiveness. Working top down and bottom up simultaneously may not be easy, but it can help realize the potential for your parenting program to go to scale. 

Terry Saw, Child Protection Officer (Social Norms), UNICEF Malaysia

Using a social behavior change approach

Oftentimes, programs are scaled up using a top-down approach, where key decision-makers design and decide how and when these programs take place. This often excludes the input of the community of parents/caregivers whom the programs are specifically targeting. Understanding their key motivations for behavior change, as well as attitudes towards parenting programs and the modes in which they are to be delivered plays an important role not only in ensuring the participation of parents/caregivers but also in their level of engagement and willingness to adopt the knowledge and skills to affect meaningful change, leading to improved outcomes for children. 

Co-design programs with the community

Building on the previous point, it is important to include targeted communities as part of the program design process. While engaging government counterparts is an important step for scaling, it is also imperative to understand the motivations for parents/caregivers to participate in these parenting programs. An understanding of the cultural, societal, and gender norms would provide a better understanding of how to embed parenting programs in a way that would allow for optimum engagement. This was reflected in UNICEF Malaysia’s Parenting for Refugees pilot, where our co-design approach led to an almost equal participation of refugee fathers in the pilot. 

Be inclusive of marginalized groups

Lastly, when thinking of scaling up, we often think of huge numbers and majority reach. However, it is also important to think about marginalized communities and groups that may not have the same access as the majority population. As parenting advocates, it is our responsibility to ensure that parents and caregivers from these groups are not left behind. These include parents and caregivers of children with disabilities, those from rural communities, indigenous populations, migrants, refugees, and undocumented individuals. 

Neelima Chopra, Program and Partnership Specialist, ARNEC

Use of technology

While technology is important to scale, it is also important to understand its application in different contexts. A study undertaken by the World Bank to assess the use of SMS and telephonic conversations/ check-in phone calls with parents did not demonstrate positive outcomes.

Pursue multiple entry points for parenting programs

In addition to ECD, it is important to look at different entry points that can be used for parenting programs. It can be ECD programs, promoting fathers’ engagement, gender transformative programs, or programs for addressing domestic violence.

Take a cross-sectoral approach

In examples from Sri Lanka, it was observed that health was used as an entry point for parenting education and ECD interventions. However, over the years, it was realized that delivery and messages had become very narrow and focused only on the clinical aspects. The absence of engaging stakeholders from other sectors in scale-up was cited as important in making programs holistic and comprehensive.

Integrate special and vulnerable groups

Scaling also needs to take into account how to address the concerns of vulnerable groups like parents of children with disabilities or parents from nomadic communities, like in Mongolia, or grandparents as main caregivers in rural China.

Beatrice Ogutu, Executive Director, Investing in Children and their Societies (ICS SP) 

Costs and costing matter

To successfully and sustainably expand and embed parenting programs in government systems, there is a need to establish costs at scale, document these costs, and investigate how they align with government budgeting codes and categorization. Governmental officials who are responsible for presenting their departmental and/or ministerial budgets to internal government committees also need the capacity to develop an investment case for support and even how to pitch the program to government decision-makers and technical staff. This is important because of the competing priorities within the government. Before the government allocates its own finances to the intervention, innovators and implementers should pay to sustain the work and coordination. 

By the GISP Community of Practice for Scaling Parenting Support. If you are interested in joining the Community of Practice, please contact info@support-parents.org