Family courts often implement parenting programs given children’s increased risk for negative adjustment post parental separation or divorce. Limited evidence exists regarding the effectiveness of these typically brief court programs. Similarly, while online programs are increasingly popular and potentially reduce barriers for parents, little research has examined their efficacy.
The current study is an ongoing randomized controlled trial comparing outcomes for parents assigned to either a no program control group or one of two online parenting programs 1) Two Families Now (TFN) or 2) Children in Between (CIB). Both programs last ~4 hours. The current sample includes 132 parties with initial divorce or separation court cases with children. Parents are sent a court order to access a court website, which informs them if the court requires them to complete on online parent program and, if so, which one. From consented study participants, we gather parent reports at: 1) study entry; 2) completion of the program; and 3) one year following study entry. Currently, follow-up data are not yet available.
Results and Conclusions
Unexpectedly, we encountered issues of parent compliance and access to programs (e.g., 42% of parties did not follow the court order to access the court website; some parents did not complete the online program), raising question about program accessibility and convenience. However, we conducted multiple regression analyses to compare the three groups from baseline to program completion. We entered time, program assignment, and case type (divorce or separation) as predictors of outcomes, along with interaction terms. After program completion, parties assigned to TFN and CIB did not differ significantly and are thus combined in the current analyses. Our preliminary findings suggested few differences of program assignment across time. Unexpectedly, parents assigned to the no program condition reported decreased levels of stress across time in comparison to parents assigned to a program, who saw no change in stress levels, F(5, 172) = 4.584, p < .01, R2 = .09, b = 1.71. Over time, regardless of program assignment, parents’ reports of children’s internalizing and externalizing behaviors increased, F(5, 110) = 9.68, p < .003, R2 = .27, b = 4.05; F(5, 128) = 13.33, p < .0001, R2 = .32, b = 5.99, respectively. Results are preliminary and will be updated for the conference. Initial study findings suggest that online programs may not have immediate positive effects.