Parenting interventions are crucial to improve the support, confidence and skills that caregivers need to engage in nurturing care, bonding and playful interactions with their children. They are shown to dramatically reduce childhood adversity, break intergenerational patterns of abuse and neglect, promote caregivers’ mental health, and promote the well-being of children across the life course.
And they are a good investment. The long-term health costs of adverse childhood experiences are US$1.3 trillion annually in North America and Europe. Evidence suggests as little as a 10 percent reduction in prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) could equate to annual savings of US$105 billion across Europe and North America.
Despite strong evidence on impact and return on investment, only 26 percent of countries self-reported having parenting and caregiver programmes with wide reach, and that their public awareness remained low. With the goal of building a world-wide movement, the Global Initiative to Support Parents (GISP) was formed during the COVID-19 pandemic around an urgent agenda to ensure every parent and caregiver has access to parenting support. GISP is a global platform that aims to bridge sectors and partners to build momentum towards universal support for parents and caregivers during the first two decades of life and across the life course. The initiative was started by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), Parenting for Lifelong Health at the University of Oxford, the Early Childhood Development Action Network (ECDAN), and the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children.
Recently, WHO released new guidelines that provide evidence-based recommendations on designing and implementing parenting interventions. These guidelines can be a powerful advocacy tool. GISP partners have come together to share ideas on how to leverage these guidelines in your advocacy and communications strategies to help build political will for investing in parenting support interventions.
Highlights from WHO’s Parenting Guidelines
- Parent and caregiver support interventions are effective in helping parents and caregivers give their children the best foundations for the future. Interventions targeted at caregivers of children aged 0-3 years have been shown to support caregiver-child interactions and improve their responsiveness to children’s needs. Moreover, these programmes can improve children’s cognitive and socioemotional developments.
- Positive parenting approaches informed by social learning theory can help to reduce child maltreatment and behavioural problems for children aged 2-10 years. Additional benefits include reducing poor parental mental health and stress. These findings are consistent across interventions, from individual to group-based settings and from the health, education, and social welfare perspectives.
- Interventions supporting parents and caregivers are important beyond the earliest years of childhood. As children enter adolescence, risk-taking behaviours, conflicts, and other factors can increase their vulnerability to maltreatment. Parents and caregivers must be able to support adolescents as they transition through these challenging yet pivotal years.
- In adolescence, parent and caregiver interventions have been shown to improve behavioural problems of children and improve positive parenting. As with the early years, parent and caregiver interventions have also been shown to address child maltreatment and parent mental health.
From Guidance to Action
The guidelines provide new, evidence-based recommendations for policy design and implementation. Here are some ideas on how you can integrate them into your advocacy efforts.
- Schedule a meeting to present findings with relevant ministerial technical staff: The WHO guidelines provide strong evidence as to the potential impact of parent and caregiver support interventions and clear recommendations for governments to inform policy and budget decisions. Yet effective advocacy is needed to ensure key government decision makers are aware of the guidelines and their implications. Start by engaging technical staff within relevant ministries to educate them about parent and caregiver support interventions, update them on the guidelines, and position your organization as a resource. Come with a clear “ask” of the government during the meeting that will advance the agenda and get their insight on other decision makers you should meet with—and connect it back to their priorities. For example, for the Ministry of Education, link parenting interventions to educational success. For the Ministry of Health, make the linkages to improved well-being and mental health for children and caregivers. Build your case policymaker by policymaker.
- Organize a meeting with journalists or an editorial board: Increasing public awareness about parent and caregiver support interventions is a critical strategy to building public demand. Public demand for parent and caregiver support interventions will, in turn, help to make the issue more salient and urgent for policymakers. Determine what the most influential news publications are and set up a meeting with journalists or the editorial board to understand their editorial calendar and how this issue might fit into it. Tie the meeting during key moments, like Parenting Month in June, national versions of Mother’s and Father’s Day, World Children’s Day, etc., when the issue will be particularly relevant. While the WHO guidelines may not be a sufficient hook for journalists on their own, they provide valuable data and evidence to support a broader story. For journalists, it’s always best to make their lives easy by creating a press kit.
- Draft an op-ed: Op-eds and open letters signed by multiple high-profile champions can be another powerful tool for building public support on a policy issue. An op-ed by a well respected, credible, and influential stakeholder (or multiple stakeholders representing the issue through different lenses) can elevate a policy issue—particularly within a specific target audience. The guidelines will provide helpful evidence from a credible institution to elevate parenting programmes as a vital investment. Often, advocates will identify an influential stakeholder and work with them to draft an op-ed and engage with the news outlet to get it published. Similarly, the publication matters—it’s important to find a publication that the target audience reads.
- Meet with partners to discuss how to integrate WHO guidelines into advocacy opportunities: Advocacy is often done in collaboration with other partners working to advance the same—or interconnected—policy objectives. Perhaps there are opportunities to integrate the WHO guidelines into the agenda of an upcoming partner meeting with policymakers or webinar to build awareness. Or you can elevate the guidelines by organizing a policy dialogue with key stakeholders in civil society and government with technical experts to discuss their implications.
- Interview program staff at a parenting support program: Effective advocacy starts with good storytelling. By organizing a meeting with parenting support program operators, you can learn about their needs and challenges and document impact stories. Hear directly what is happening in the field to learn what is needed to scale and where the opportunities for advocacy and influence might be from a program implementer’s perspective. The WHO guidelines may provide an opportunity to frame the discussion and learn about the reality on the ground, providing new content and perspectives to elevate through communications.
By Brett Weisel (with contributions from the Global Initiative to Support Parents partners)
Brett Weisel is the Global Policy and Advocacy Lead at ECDAN.