KIPS Blog: Parenting Assessment in Practice & Research

Teaching What Works for Children at Parenting University

Posted by Marilee Comfort on Wed, Sep 10, 2014 @ 01:25 PM

Importance of Parenting & Evidence-Based Intervention

Children don’t come with instructions.  Yet, parenting quality effects a child’s overall welfareparenting tools and influences vital outcomes such as social behavior, educational success and emotional well-being (Olds, et al., 2007). Characteristics of effective parenting include (a) interaction style with their child; (b) warmth and affection towards their child; and (c) parenting strategies used (Johnson, et al., 2008). Cultivating positive parent/child interaction is a cornerstone of most parenting programs and parenting curricula. 

Guest blog by

Kyla Liggett-Creel
University of Maryland School of Social Work

“Parent training is one of the most used prevention and intervention techniques to prevent or reduce child maltreatment or further child welfare services involvement. Parent training is identified in the general template of many case plans involving open child welfare cases (Barth et al., 2006) and many cases where there is not substantiation or an open case.  Yet, evidence based interventions remain very limited in the field of early childhood—especially for parents of children birth-3.” (Barth & Liggett-Creel, 2014)

Evidence-based models, such as SafeCare® and Triple P® 4, have been found effective for preventing child abuse and neglect within families with children birth to three years old. However, implementing evidence-based models can be challenging due to financial constraints, training requirements, and effort needed to maintain model fidelity (Barth & Liggett-Creel, 2014).  Due to these barriers, the University of Maryland, School of Social Work faculty and staff developed a parenting program using common components of evidence-based parenting models.  Common components include parent-child dyadic work focused on building responsive parenting skills, coaching, modeling, and group format.  (Learn more about the Common Components model).

Promise Heights Network of Community Services:  Parent University Program

The Promise Heights Initiative is a program through the University of Maryland with the mission to “create a comprehensive child, family and community building model in West Baltimore that provides children 0-21 with educational, social, physical, and economic opportunities and which allows them to thrive and succeed in work and family life” (Promise Heights, 2012). Promise Heights is fashioned after the Harlem Children’s Zone of New York.  The Parent University Program is embedded within the Promise Heights community. Over 50% of children in this community are living in poverty, 50% of adults do not have a high school diploma and 60% are unemployed (Promise Heights, 2012). The Promise Heights initiative has established a network of community services that includes churches, social service providers, schools and the University. The University of Maryland has developed a pipeline of programs to serve families from pregnancy to graduation from college. B’More for Healthy Babies is the first program in the pipeline and serves pregnant mothers until the babies are 18 months old. The Parent University Program is the second program in the pipeline. It was shaped to be more intensive and to have more interactive elements than the Baby College of Harlem Children’s Zone.

 PU parenting assessment

 Parent University Program Builds Responsive Parenting Skills

The Parent University Program (PUP) is a 10-week community-embedded parenting program for parents with children between birth and three years of age. Staff at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work developed and facilitated the initial PUP sessions with a focus on knowledge of child development, health and wellbeing. The goal of PUP is to increase positive joint interaction between parents and children through practicing dyadic activities, while receiving coaching and feedback from social workers, student interns and parent leaders. Because young children experience their worlds through early relationships, parent-child interaction is the highlighted form of communication throughout the PUP sessions.  PUP staff and faculty focus on addressing the needs of the parents so that they can focus on the needs of their children. Parents receive a lot of attention, praise and strengths-based support throughout the program to encourage passing these strategies forward to their children.

Parent University Program Builds Parent Leaders

After each program iteration since 2011, changes in PUP have been made based on feedback from family participants and staff.  The gradual passing of responsibilities from social workers to peer parent mentors, then to peer parent leaders is a striking distinction of the PUP, which translates into building confidence, competence and enjoyment for the families and the community.  In the current version of PUP, social work faculty take a back seat.  Parent leaders recruit family participants, facilitate the program sessions and lead intervention activities. The FED component was developed and implemented during the 4th iteration of the program, based on recommendations from the PUP graduates.  Parent/child dyads engage in reading and play activities, while participating parents are encouraged to Follow their child’s lead, Enjoy the interaction and Describe what their child is doing. The current role of social workers, students and volunteers is to support parent leaders and participating parents, and provide childcare during parent group.

Several components have remained the same through all four cohorts.  Sessions take place one morning a week from 9:00 am-11:30 am. Participants must be the primary caregiver (referred to as parents) for the identified child. Parents bring their children and are served breakfast. Parents, children and staff then join as a group to first sing songs, then read and then play with their children, establishing familiar routines with transitions during each session. Finally, parents attend a parent group where community service providers present on topics such as attachment, lead exposure and asthma. During each 10-week series, parents receive at least one home visit from program staff and weekly reminder calls. Case management is available if the parent expresses a specific need. Program facilitators give families two books and a small gift (eg. a tube of lotion or a CD) at the end of each group session.

Five cohorts of parents (n=60) have already graduated from PUP since 2011. We’re excited to announce that families with children three to five years old will be offered the Parent University Program II beginning in the fall of 2014. This program will be the next phase in the continuum of pipeline services offered in the Promise Heights community. 

Parenting Assessment: Will PUP Make a Difference?

For the evaluation, during the first four years families participated in five measures for the PUP research project: (a) Parent University Program Questionnaire, (b) Nursing Child Assessment Teaching Scale (NCATS: Sumner and Speitz, 1994), (c) Infant Intentionality Questionnaire-short form (Berlin, et al., 2013), (d) Safe Environment for Every Kid (SEEK) Parent Support Questionnaire (Dubowitz, et al., 2009) and e) the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ, Squires and Bricker, 2009).  Parents were given the ASQ as a screening tool for referral to early intervention services if needed. 

PUP added the KIPS assessment during the fifth cohort. The Keys to Interactive Parenting Scale (KIPS) allows the Promise Heights Initiative to assess parent-child interaction throughout the pipeline of services until entry into elementary school. KIPS also offers specific goals for intervention when working with parents through the various Promise Heights Programs for early childhood. We added KIPS because it is a strengths-based assessment tool that highlights positive interactions between the parent and child. The Parent University staff and parent leaders aim to support positive interactions by parents so they will nurture their children. KIPS is used as a program evaluation tool to allow program developers to assess whether PUP is effective in increasing responsive parenting skills in participants. KIPS is a wonderful fit for the PUP goal: to increase positive joint attention of parents and children.


Barth, R.B. & Liggett-Creel, K. (2014). Common components of parenting programs for children birth to eight years of age. Children and Youth Services Review, 40, 6-12.

Barth, R. P., Landsverk, J., Chamberlain, P., Reid, J., Rolls, J., Hurlburt, M., . . . Kohl, P. L. (2006). Parent-training in child welfare services: Planning for a more evidence-based approach to serving biological parents. Research on Social Work Practice, 15(5), 353-371.

Johnson, M.A., Stone, S., Lou, C., Ling, J., Claassen, & Austin, M.J. (2008). Assessing parent education programs for families involved with child welfare services: Evidence and implications. Journal of Evidence-Based Social Work, 5(1/2), 191-238.

Olds, D.L., Sadler, L., & Kitzman, H. (2007). Programs for parents of infants and toddlers: recent evidence from randomized trials. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 48 (3/4), 355-391.

Download the Keys to Interactive Parenting Scale (KIPS) Validation Summary

KIPS was validated with support from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.  Download highlights of the research showing that KIPS is valid, reliable and practical for use in programs serving diverse families.    


Evidence Based



Tags: parent-child interaction, assessing parenting, parent leaders, coaching interactions, poverty