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Transforming Early Parenting Education Through Video Conferencing Technology

  • Research

A research initiative launched in partnership with USC Telehealth is creating innovative parenting and child development solutions through technology, increasing access to care for families across the country.

When a baby is born, nobody provides an instruction manual—but many new parents wish they had access to more guidance in the early years of their children’s lives. In fact, according to Zero to Three’s National Parent Survey, 83 percent of parents agree that good parenting can be learned, while 69 percent say that if they had more positive parenting strategies in their arsenals, they would use them.

A new family intervention program, spearheaded by Associate Professor Dorian Traubein partnership with USC Telehealth and Parents as Teachers, is equipping families with the tools and resources they need to navigate parenthood for the first time. In recognition of Purposeful Parenting Month, Traube spoke with us about the obstacles many families face in gaining access to early parenting education, and how this virtual home visitation program is filling the gap for young mothers and fathers across the country.

USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work: Can you walk us through the highlights of your professional background?

Dorian Traube: Before coming to USC, I worked as a social worker at a pediatric HIV clinic in New York. I also helped to evaluate children’s mental health programs across New York state.

Since 2006, I’ve been an associate professor in the Department of Children, Youth and Families at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. My research centers on children’s mental health—particularly within the context of the American child welfare system. In large part, I work to develop prevention-focused adolescent behavioral health interventions.

USC: How did the idea for the virtual parent education program come about?

DT: I encountered research from the Children’s Data Network revealing that the children of teen parents who were raised in the child welfare system are at an exponentially higher risk of ending up in the system themselves.

I began asking myself, ‘What are some evidence-based practices that I could incorporate into a scalable family intervention program to address this issue?’ I saw an opportunity to collaborate with USC’s Telehealth program, which provides comprehensive mental health services via video conferencing technology.

In partnership with Telehealth, I developed a prevention-focused intervention program using their video conferencing platform. The program’s structure is based on traditional social work home visitation models. We launched in 2016, and we’re now an official affiliate of Parents as Teachers, an organization serving 3,000 children annually with affiliates in all 50 states as well as England, Canada, Germany and Australia.

USC: How does the program work in practice?

DT: The intervention itself is delivered by social work interns across the country who are completing their field practicum in the Telehealth online clinic and have been trained in the Parents as Teachers National Center curriculum.

Meetings occur via video conferencing technology either once a week or twice monthly, depending on a family’s needs. Providers work with both the parent and the child, guiding them through activities that support the child’s developmental growth. The sessions also address the trials and tribulations that parents are experiencing in areas such as discipline, routine-building and dealing with attachment issues.

USC: How does the program address the holistic needs of participants, and how is progress monitored and assessed?

An integral component of the program focuses on family well-being, acknowledging that no family can experience healthy development if any member of the family is suffering. For example, if the parent is having trouble finding a job, this can have a negative impact on the whole family. We troubleshoot with parents and connect them with resources to solve any problems that are impeding their child’s development.

In addition to one-on-ones, we offer a monthly opportunity for families to participate in a group session. Each of these sessions is focused on a specific topic, such as breastfeeding or the importance of play, and is usually led by a subject matter expert.

As the program draws to an end, participants receive a family-centered assessment and a developmental-centered assessment for their child. We use the data from the family assessment to gauge the family’s strengths and areas for improvement.

We want to educate parents on how to leverage their strengths to support growth in other areas. With the developmental assessment, we measure the child’s growth and connect the family to additional resources if necessary to facilitate his or her development.

USC: How does your digital model compare to traditional home visitation models, and who can benefit most from these services?

DT: Our approach is unique in a number of ways. First of all, this is the only home visitation service in the country delivered entirely via video conferencing technology, and one of very few that includes a focus on family well-being. What’s more, our program is totally free to participants, and families can schedule as many sessions as they like until their child reaches the age of three.

In general, most of the young parents that we serve are digital natives—so the first place they go to seek help has always been the internet. The model is well-suited for these parents because they are often more comfortable communicating online than they would be with a social worker entering their home.

Obviously, rural families and those with limited physical access to parenting services benefit greatly from this digital program. In addition, many undocumented immigrant families and those who reside in urban areas in which travel may be difficult have found the platform to be an ideal solution. Ultimately, our model increases access to care for all kinds of families.

USC: What are some of the positive results you’ve seen since implementing the program, and what are your plans for the program moving forward?

DT: We’ve been excited to find that our virtual program has enjoyed comparable attendance rates and yielded similar results to existing on-the-ground programs.

What’s more, our capacity to serve new parents has grown significantly since launching. We began with enough funding to serve 10 to 15 families, and have since served over 80 families. Today, we’re actively serving 50. We’ve been thrilled with the participant success stories we’ve witnessed thus far, and we’re committed to continuing to scale the program.

We are proud to announce that we recently received funding through OpenIDEO and Gary Community Investments to conduct research on the delivery of developmental assessments through the Telehealth platform. Improving the assessment process will be a priority moving forward, and the results of this research could have implications for many service sectors—from early childhood education to pediatric care.

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