When you first start working with a family, how do you know what skills parents bring to their interactions with their children? How do you know which direction they need to go to be the best parent they can be? How do you help them respond to the individual needs of each one of their children? As we’ve discussed previously, there are a range of assessment tools available to help you. However, if you’re interested in assessing what really matters to children, you need to observe and assess the parents in action. After all, it is the parents’ behavior that the child experiences.
Observational Parenting Assessment - Measuring What Matters to Children
For a trustworthy parenting assessment, we recommend using a structured observation of parent-child interaction. A structured observational assessment tool specifies the behaviors to observe and how the parent-child interaction will be scored. A high caliber tool undergoes years of development and validation research to be certain that the behaviors assessed are meaningful to child development, that the tool measures the behaviors intended, and the resulting scores correlate as expected with other similar measures. That’s why it’s so important to resist simply picking any parenting assessment tool off the shelf and using it. You need to make sure that the tool you choose has undergone rigorous development and validation.
Assessing Parenting is Learning to See What Matters to Children
Choosing a thoroughly validated tool is only the important first step. Once you have selected a tool, it’s vital to learn how to use it reliably in order to conduct quality assessments for families. Quality parenting assessment tools require training so you can fully understand the specific behaviors as they are defined by the tool. This is not as easy as it sounds. Few of us have been trained to do such careful observation. You need to learn to watch the parent and child interacting, carefully noting their body language and facial expressions and listening to their words and sounds. While being trained to assess parenting, many family services providers tell us that careful observation of parent-child interaction is a very new experience for them, and that it really opens their eyes to valuable insights they hadn’t thought of before.
Scoring Parenting Assessments Reliably
Once you become a skilled observer, you will need to understand the scoring system in order to rate behaviors according to the selected tool’s scale. Even after learning to observe, it takes time and practice to score an assessment tool reliably. Reliability means that different trained observers score the same interaction similarly. Merely sitting through an in-person training session, watching a DVD, or clicking through an online training isn’t sufficient to ensure reliable scoring. High quality assessments require certification that includes demonstration of reliability using the assessment tool. For example, for the Keys to Interactive Parenting Scale-KIPS, at least 80% of your scores need to match the standard set of scores to achieve certification.
A Guide to How You Can Strengthen Parenting Skills
Human beings are complex. It’s no wonder that it takes considerable work to become a skilled observer of parent-child interactions. For example, training for KIPS requires an average of about 10 hours to learn to reliably assess parenting. Remember, the reason for learning to observe so carefully is to help you figure out where each parent is and which direction to guide him/her in strengthening their parenting skills. It takes time and effort to learn, but the rewards are well worth it.
Understandably, this takes time and practice. At the end of the 10-hour training, the KIPS course offers three opportunities for learners to pass a scoring exam. A review of the last 50 learners taking our online course shows that only 70% certified on the first exam attempt, suggesting that just sitting through a course isn’t sufficient for some learners. This illustrates the importance of requiring someone to show competence for certification. Fear not for the remaining 30%; we provide supports for them. To allow time to develop the needed competence the online KIPS training provides a 30-day subscription, the ability to review modules as needed, and extra practice opportunities in the online Play Video Collection in the KIPS Library. The good news is that with additional work, the remaining 30% certified by passing their second or third exam. For this sample of 50, with a little extra effort, 100% of the learners certified to use the KIPS parenting assessment.
Maintaining Quality: Accuracy Depends on You
Since quality matters, after becoming successfully certified, there’s still work to be done to ensure ongoing assessment reliability. Without regular feedback, there’s a tendency to drift away from a tool’s scoring standards. In one program we noted that only 4 months after KIPS certification, without feedback on scoring, only 40% of staff could still score reliably. The remainder needed practice and feedback to refresh their scoring skills. Since it takes effort to learn to observe and reliably score an observational assessment, it is worth a little continued effort to maintain these skills. While integrating parenting assessments into their services, successful programs build in reliability checks on a sample of assessments for quality assurance. Also, scoring review can be worked into supervision, staff meetings or case reviews to keep scoring skills sharp. With KIPS we also offer ongoing access to the online Play Video Collection with scoring practice and detailed expert commentary to maintain scoring skills. This allows users to check and hone their skills at any time.
Even with the interactive supports offered in the KIPS Video Collection,a review of the last 50 online recertification subscriptions showed that 54% passed the first exam, suggesting that scoring had become unreliably rusty in 46%. This is a group who knew from the outset that they would be required to check their scoring skills annually. Imagine what the results might have been for those using an assessment without any checks on their scoring reliability. The good news for this group is that all passed on the second or third opportunity, demonstrating they could do accurate parenting assessments with a little practice and feedback. Assessment tools that don’t require regular recertification risk unreliable scoring that could mislead families and misrepresent program outcomes. We notice that programs that focus on maintaining scoring ability recertify more easily, than those which don’t. Just a little effort in retaining the skills goes a long way toward maintaining the reliability that your families deserve. We’ve found that the combination of structured supervisor and peer group supports, with scoring practice in the KIPS Library coupled with annual recertification helps maintain the highest assessment quality for families.
You work hard to build trust with the parents you serve. It is through this trust that you make positive impacts. Becoming reliable and maintaining reliability with assessments are part of being trustworthy. Assessments provide you insights to help parents nurture their children. With accurate assessment information you can more effectively serve parents, provide specific and meaningful feedback, as well as document their progress and success. Quality, Responsibility and Trust go hand in hand as we guide parents to be the best they can be for their children today, tomorrow and for future generations.