Guest Contribution by:
Alison Fennell, MA, LPC, ACS
Mental Health Manager/Clinical Supervisor
NORWESCAP Early Head Start/Head Start
In an earlier post, I described how NORWESCAP Early Head Start implemented an observational parenting assessment, which our Early Head Start site reviewers found a highlight of our program. With Early Head Start’s current spotlight on School Readiness, we are providing specific services to help parents prepare their children for school. We now incorporate parenting assessments into our reflective supervision with Home Visitors by scheduling quarterly meetings with each staff person specifically to reflect upon their assessments.
Parenting Assessment in Reflective Supervision
In preparation, the Home Visitor picks out 3 or 4 parenting assessments from their caseload that she would like to think through in some depth during our session. Usually, we start by selecting the parent with whom the Home Visitor feels most challenged. We watch the video of the parent-child interaction and review the parenting assessment scoring. I ask the Home Visitor to provide examples of the behaviors that are representative of the scores for particular items. Together we reflect on the observed interaction, identifying the parenting strengths and the opportunities for growth. With an understanding of the strengths and opportunities, we move to planning the next steps with the family. Usually, I ask the Home Visitor to reflect on the state of the parent-staff relationship, by asking something like, “Where is your relationship with this mom?” because the state of their relationship is important in tailoring our approach. Similarly, we always reflect on the Home Visitor’s comfort and confidence with both the relationship and potential approaches. I find matching Home Visitor comfort and confidence with the approach is essential to successful follow through. We also use a parent questionnaire in the first 45 days of enrollment, called Touchstone, to guide family goal planning. Reflecting on the relevant information, together we come up with an approach which is recorded in the weekly Home Based Planning Form for each family.
At first Home Visitors felt uneasy with the open-ended questions I was asking concerning the parenting assessment (for more on the power of questions see Nancy Seibel's previous guest blog). Many felt that my follow-up questions were an indication that they had previously given the wrong answer. However, with time they have grown more comfortable with me asking lots of questions. You have to be patient when introducing such an approach, as it takes time for the Home Visitors to get used to suspending conclusions while we wonder together.
Parenting Assessment Lessons Learned
Though this process is time consuming, and even a little stressful, we find many benefits. A key lesson learned is that parenting assessment becomes more useful when we provide support in applying the information toward a relevant family goal. This reflective process allows us to focus our family goals more specifically toward the Early Head Start relationship-based School Readiness framework. After focusing on the more challenging cases, the Home Visitors seem more at ease in incorporating the parenting assessment information into their goal plans with their other families. By incorporating the parenting assessment information directly into goal planning, the Home Visitors see it as relevant to their work. We are finding that the Home Visitors feel more comfort and confidence in working with parents to promote more nurturing parenting.
Through this reflective process, the quality of the observation is becoming more detailed, specific and actionable. Home visitors identify more specific behaviors when they watch parent-child interaction, and develop action steps based on what they see and hear. In addition, using an observational parenting assessment, like Keys to Interactive Parenting Scale (KIPS), has given us all a common language for discussing parenting, which enhances our collaboration and supervision. Having specific language to describe our observations facilitates our goal planning and translates directly to our support for parents. Our quarterly reflective supervision sessions have revealed the real value for our families of using a parenting assessment tool. It takes time and effort to assess parenting. It was hard to change what we were doing. But once the Home Visitors “get it”, they can use it, and that makes a big difference for families.
For more on how parenting assessment can benefit parenting services, download our paper on Nine Ways Parenting Assessment Can Power Your Program.
Learn How Parenting Assessment:
1. Documents evidence of parenting outcomes
2. Tailors services to individual parenting strengths and needs
3. Monitors progress and guides service planning
4. Reinforces parenting progress and confidence
5. Serves as a parenting check-up as children develop
6. Shifts staff focus from child to parent-child interactions
7. Offers a common language for staff, families and programs
8. Builds reflective practice during supervision
9. Informs continuous quality improvement for staff and programs