Thousands of volunteer-driven parent-led mutual support groups (PMSGs) currently operate in the U.S., helping parents manage stress and improve coping through the exchange of emotional support and experiential knowledge during meetings. In an effort to engage more parents in these groups, we tested two engagement strategies in two separate studies. In study 1, the strategy under investigation was to match potential newcomers to existing PMSG members who served as sponsor parents, befriending the potential newcomers and encouraging their involvement. In study 2, we tested the efficacy of exposing parents to a PMSG simulation, which was designed to familiarize parents with the groups and their benefits.
Study 1 was a randomized controlled trial comparing the attendance patterns of potential newcomers assigned to receive outreach from a sponsor parent to those who did not. A total of 42 parents interested in attending a PMSG enrolled in the trial. We collected PMSG attendance data on 23 parents two months after baseline data collection, for a response rate of 55%. Poisson regression evaluated the impact of treatment condition on PMSG attendance.
Study 2 used an observational design, enrolling 95 parents in 8 focus groups that simulated a PMSG meeting. Surveys assessing intentions to attend a PMSG were administered before and after the simulation and a two month follow-up assessed subsequent PMSG attendance.
Study 1: Individuals matched to sponsor parents attended an average of 3.91 PMSG meetings in the two months following the baseline data collection whereas unmatched parents attended an average of .58 PMSG meetings. Intervention status in the poisson regression predicting number of meetings attended was significant, with those in the intervention condition predicted to attend 6.7 times more PMSG meetings as compared to the control group, for an increase of 670%.
Study 2: Results indicate that intentions to attend a PMSG significantly increased following the PMSG simulation, for a Cohen’s d effect size of 1.15, which is considered a "large" effect. The increase was more pronounced among Hispanic parents. Although intentions to attend a parent group were high following the simulation (mean = 6.36 on a 7 point scale), PMSG attendance in the following two months was relatively low, with 13% of parents attending a group or a planning meeting to start a group.
Both engagement strategies increased PMSG attendance and may work better in conjunction with one another. Financial compensation also played a critical role in recruiting low-income parents into the PMSG simulation. These pilot studies provide the foundation for future efforts aimed at extending the social networks and emotional support available to parents.