I’ve often noted that when a family service provider sees items on the ASQ child development assessment marked “Yes”, she will celebrate the child’s skills with the parents and often discuss next developmental steps. And when she sees items marked “Not Yet”, she will structure her services with the family to promote the child’s development of those skills. For example, if a child is delayed in fine motor skills, she introduces activities to stimulate development of those pathways, like picking up Cheerios or filling a jar with buttons. However, when an assessment reveals strengths and gaps in a parent’s skills, I am commonly asked, “What do I do next?” I wonder why the responses to child development and parenting assessment results are so different.
While consulting with numerous programs, I’ve witnessed the power of using assessments as learning tools for both staff and families. When the results are translated into a road map to individualize services, they guide parents in nurturing their children. For example, using parenting assessment results, services can be specifically tailored to address each individual parent’s strengths and needs. It’s just like picking up Cheerios for adults, we first need to identify the strengths and needs with an assessment to get a clear picture of each parent's skills. Then we can reinforce the strengths to build confidence and strong parent-child relationships. We also can provide specific skill-building opportunities for parents to address needs.
Upon entry into a program, an early parenting assessment can identify areas for immediate success. Early success promotes family engagement in services and reduces attrition. Ongoing parenting assessment enables practitioners and families to monitor their progress together and apply the resulting information to guide next steps. Mapping parenting assessment items to specific sections of a parenting curriculum or program manual can ease service planning for staff, thereby reducing the time and effort required to link assessment results to services. Since parenting assessment is so valuable, what is the first step in preparing parents?
First Step in Introducing Parenting Assessments
Where many family service providers find focusing on the children’s skills natural, some may have reservations in working on parenting practices. These reservations have some justification. Parenting can be a sensitive topic for families for a variety of reasons. They may believe that family issues are private matters. Perhaps they don’t want anyone knowing their private business or telling them what to do with their children. Perhaps they are concerned they could never measure up to their own parent’s standards. Perhaps they vowed never to parent as they were parented. Perhaps they’ve read a zillion books about parenting and that give contradictory messages. Perhaps they have memories of unhappy or neglectful experiences in their own childhoods. Perhaps they were abused - physically, emotionally, or sexually -- as children. No matter what the reasons are, we have found that when trust is built between the practitioner and the family, introducing parenting assessments is rarely a problem. This comes as a delightful surprise to many!
Building trust is as important in doing assessments as it is in working effectively with families. It behooves those of us working with families to maintain an open mind, protect confidentiality, and respect the level and pace at which parents open their minds, hearts, and sometimes their deep concerns, to us. We need to keep our eyes on our mutual goal with families of supporting each parent’s and child’s healthy development. This is the beacon that guides all parenting services.
For observational parenting assessments, building this foundation of trust is vital. Parents must trust you to observe without being judgmental, to notice and applaud their parenting strengths. They should expect to hold a thoughtful conversation with you about their opportunities to grow and to develop an action plan to develop their skills. After all, have you ever met a parent who doesn’t want to be the best parent she or he can be?
As part of the trust-building process, practitioners and programs need to be honest and clear with families about the purpose and value of assessments. For example, programs trained on the Keys to Interactive Parenting Scale typically list KIPS among the services provided when orienting families to the program. This approach has the advantage of normalizing the assessment as standard practice for the program. Programs can allow the option for families to decline any specific service or assessment. As a practitioner, once you are comfortable with any assessment, family acceptance is commonly very high. Rather than describing assessments as tests, family acceptance will be more favorable if you describe your assessments as learning tools that will provide valuable information for both you and the family in strengthening their parent-child relationship or developing new skills. You may need to adjust the level of detail of the information you discuss according to the family’s sensitivity, preferences and abilities. It’s best to plan during supervision how assessments will be introduced and how results will be used in your work with parents. Then use your own words to explain this to families, and discuss any questions or concerns they might have before you actually do the assessment.
Orienting Families to Assessments
It’s important to orient families to assessments. We’ve found it increases parent comfort level and likelihood of high parent buy-in, if you include the following:
Introduce the assessment process in advance.
Discuss the purpose of assessment as a learning tool.
Invite the family to choose the time, place, and who will participate in the assessment.
Explain the procedures – what you expect of the family members.
Describe how assessment results will be used to develop a family services plan.
Assess What Matters to Children
Download our paper:
Nine Ways Parenting Assessment Can Make a Difference in 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 program.