Research shows some benefits from programs for divorcing parents

June 28, 1999

Columbus, Ohio -- Divorcing parents who attended a parent education seminar reported better parent-child relationships than those who were not offered such classes, an Ohio State University study has found.

The program was most effective during the first four years following divorce.

The parents who attended the program also reported that the program was very beneficial, even though researchers did not find a large number of differences between parents who attended the seminar and those who did not.

"Based on our studies and others, we can say that there is at least some evidence that these programs can have positive longer-term effects," said Patrick McKenry, professor of human development and family science in Ohio State's College of Human Ecology.

"Programs like this can at least help parents through the two years thought necessary for post-divorce adjustment to occur." McKenry conducted the study with doctoral student Kathleen Clark and Glenn Stone, assistant professor of social work at Miami University. Results appeared in a recent issue of the journal Family Relations.

More than 500 parenting programs for divorcing parents are offered nationwide, many of them mandated by courts. However, few studies have evaluated their effectiveness. McKenry's study, funded by the Ohio Supreme Court, reviewed surveys returned from parents who divorced between 1991 and 1995, or two to six years before the survey was sent out. The surveys were distributed in two Ohio counties -- one that has had a court-mandated parenting program since 1990, and the other without such a program.

Five hundred surveys were sent to each county; 136 were returned from Marion County, which mandates the 2.5-hour seminar for divorcing parents; 100 were returned from neighboring Delaware County.

The program offered in Marion County is a collaborative effort between the Marion County Court of Common Pleas and Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Marion County. It consists of a 2.5 hour seminar parents attend after filing for divorce and before the divorce is granted. Parents do not have to attend the seminar together. The program is offered twice a month, with an average of 40 parents attending each class.

The program, Parents' Education About Children's Emotions, or PEACE, was adapted from a similar program in Georgia.

It covers various topics, including co-parenting, communication skills, the grief process for adults and children, developmental variations in children's reactions to their parents' divorce, factors that contribute to a more positive post-divorce adjustment, and roles of custodial and non-custodial parents.

At the end of the session, each participant receives a handbook with the information covered in detail, as well as local community resources and a book list for more help and information.

In addition to asking the parents about their relationship with their children, the survey asked about the parents' co-parenting relationship, the children's adjustment to custody and visitation; the parent's attitudes regarding the non-custodial parent's role; the parent's knowledge about what children usually experience after their parents divorce; and, in Marion County, the parent's perceived impact of the PEACE program.

Although researchers could find no significant differences between the parents on most of their measures, they did find that parents who participated in PEACE perceived a greater closeness with their children since the divorce. They also found evidence that program participants were more satisfied with their relationship with their children than parents who did not participate in the program. Results were even stronger on those measures when the researchers looked at the subset of parents who had divorced within the previous four years.

The researchers expected that result because brief programs such as PEACE usually don't have much long-term effectiveness.

When asked specifically about the PEACE program, parents who participated gave the program an average rating of between "helpful" and "very helpful." Parents felt even stronger that the program could be "very helpful" to other parents going through divorce, and they admitted that the program helped them "decrease" or "stop completely" negative behaviors in regards to the divorce.

After they analyzed survey results, the researchers also conducted face-to-face interviews with a subsample of 20 men and women who participated in PEACE. Although the group included those who were satisfied with the program and those who were not, the researchers found in this analysis even greater benefits from attending the program.

"Perhaps a paper-and-pencil questionnaire is not the best way to assess the impact of these types of programs," McKenry said. "Or perhaps it's not realistic to expect the benefits of a two hour program to last four to six years."

Those interviewed indicated that programs should be longer and should be offered more than once, to help parents deal with conflicts in attempting to raise their children post-divorce.

"They said one session was not enough -- programs should be offered from time to time to help divorced parents cope with co-parenting," McKenry said.
Contact: Patrick McKenry,614-292-5616;
Written by Martha Filipic, 614-292-9833;

Ohio State University

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