Cell phones aid parenting program

Author: Kylie Ann Carter ‘02

If you want to be of assistance, it helps if, in the words of an old AT&T slogan, you can “reach out and touch someone.” That is the premise behind a recent study by Notre Dame psychologists, which showed that cell phones could be employed to enhance the effectiveness of a parenting training program for families who were at risk for child abuse or neglect.

The Planned Activities Training program (PAT) employs a 10-step model to help parents at risk of child abuse or neglect. In the program, parents are encouraged to plan daily activities in advance and to be more in tune with their children’s interests with the hope of preventing challenging behavior which may provoke the parents.

Caseworkers, however, often have difficulty staying in touch with their clients, many of whom have unstable housing situations and lack home phones. If you can’t reach someone, it’s difficult to have an intervention.

With that in mind, ND Assistant Professor of Psychology Jennifer Burke Lefever and her colleagues — Judith Carta and Kathryn Bigelow, both from the University of Kansas, and John Borkowski from Notre Dame — decided to give cell phones to some of the 90 at-risk families in the parenting skills study. The phones allowed parenting coaches to reach the families and text them reminders and encouragements. Also, parents would be able to call the coaches if they needed help or to reschedule a training session.

Those families provided with cell phones had a notably higher success rate in the intervention than those families without the phones. Supportive and informative text messages and increased contact with case workers made these parents less likely to drop out of the program and more likely to learn and implement the PAT model.

Not only did the phones improve intervention results, Lefever notes, but they also lessened case workers’ frustration caused by their inability to reach families or by clients missing appointments. Parenting coaches reported greater job satisfaction and increased engagement with their families.