Parenting education shows results
More funding, more programs point to parenting group’s success
In Wallowa County, parenting educators offer a variety of public safety classes around bike helmets, winter sports, life jackets and fire prevention, as they step in to cover the hole in services left when the county’s health department shut its doors.
In Yoncalla, families rub elbows in the community kitchen as they take turns preparing meals for fellow attendees of a 12-week parenting course, facilitated by trained community members.
In Baker City, moms in a residential treatment center share lunch before they go to class to learn strategies to manage parenting challenges. They finish each of the sessions in the 10-week course with a crafts-making class, where they create gifts for their children.
Those are just three faces of parent education in Oregon and Siskiyou County, Calif., all of them dedicated to providing high-quality evidence-based parenting education — and all part of the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative.
OPEC celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. It was launched as a partnership between Oregon State University and several private foundations (The Oregon Community Foundation, The Ford Family Foundation, Meyer Memorial Trust and The Collins Foundation) to create a statewide infrastructure to support parenting education and expand access to evidence-based, culturally responsive programs.
Research has shown that parenting education provides a host of benefits for parents, caregivers, children and families. Classes give parents the confidence they need to knowledgeably raise children, while improving parental mental health and well-being. Parent education has also been shown to reduce the risk of child abuse and neglect by encouraging positive practices, and children whose parents participate in these programs demonstrate improved behavior.
“OPEC brings partners together around parenting education to collaborate, learn from one another’s struggles and successes, and leverage resources so that families can benefit,” says Shauna Tominey, OPEC’s state coordinator and an assistant professor of practice and parenting education specialist at OSU.
As it marks the end of its first decade, OPEC celebrates the development of a network that nearly covers the state. It features 16 hubs that deliver and coordinate programming in 35 of the state’s 36 counties, as well as in Siskiyou County, California.
Over the last 10 years, OPEC has built an infrastructure that melds the efforts of strong and promising community initiatives from throughout Oregon into a collaborative model that leverages and supports individual efforts for the betterment of all youth in the state. More than 55,000 parents and children have participated in an OPEC activity and more than 3,000 have attended its cornerstone parenting series.
As OPEC’s infrastructure has continued to grow and mature with support from foundation partners, the opportunity for private-public partnership has become a reality. Oregon’s Student Success Act includes $1 million annually to expand parenting education services to families with young children. In addition, Oregon Department of Human Services has partnered with OPEC to expand programs to families with older children and teens (see below).
Each hub works with partner organizations in their communities to support a variety of multi-week evidence-based parenting education curricula, as well as single event workshops and family activities, with some offering home visits. The programming is tailored to the region’s needs, but commonalities abound. Curriculum is evidence-based and offered free or at low-cost to families. Events often offer childcare, activities and meals.
“We are striving to break down barriers families face to participate,” Tominey says. “We want all families to have access to parenting resources and supports.”
One of the unique aspects of the OPEC model is its focus on group-based parenting education, designed to build community in a way that breaks down barriers and brings people together.
“Coming together to share parenting joys and learn strategies to tackle parenting challenges creates community that lasts beyond a class,” Tominey says.
“At a time in our society when there is so much that can divide us, the love we have for our children can bring us together. We want to normalize parenting education and take away the stigma. Going to a parenting class helps us be the parents we want to be—it’s something we can do for ourselves, for our children, and for one another.”
In Yoncalla, parenting education has become an accepted — even anticipated — part of the community structure. Coordinator Erin Helgren attributes that partly to the model it has adopted of training facilitators from the community rather than bringing in professionals from outside.
“Our goal is to create a cadre of parenting educators who are embedded in the community, that people already have relationships and a trust with,” Helgren says. One of the first facilitators was a local sheep farmer. Since them, several parents and community partners have undergone facilitation training.
“For remote rural communities, I really do consider high-quality parenting education as being a mental health strategy,” says Helgren. “And in a state that really struggles with meeting the behavioral health needs of residents, I think that investment in parenting education is powerful. I know it’s the longest and most successful strategy we’ve ever had in engaging parents.”
Program focuses on teens
OPEC programming has traditionally been aimed at early childhood, but a new partnership with the Oregon Department of Human Services is expanding its parenting education in a new direction as it addresses a need to educate families with older children. Last year, DHS granted OPEC $3 million to leverage its network and expand programming for older children, teens and their caregivers, and to provide training for program leaders.
OPEC hubs recently completed regional training in facilitation skills, and programs are rolling out across the state. In Yoncalla, the parenting teen class involves both parents and teens, who will begin class with dinner. They will then meet in separate rooms and come back together for an activity that involve teens and parents.
“Parents work multiple jobs and teens are very busy,” Helgren says. “I see it as creating a space for parents and teens to have critical conversations and relate to each other.”