The Parents AnonymousSM Group Model

PhotoTo reduce the blame and shame parents sometimes experience, Parents AnonymousSM offers help through support systems with other parents. Parents AnonymousSM group members determine the content of each meeting, usually through formal agenda building at the beginning of each session, although multiple strategies may be employed. Thus, the topics discussed on any given day relate specifically to the needs and interests of the group members present. This allows for valuable discussion because members often can share their own expertise in particular areas with other members seeking assistance. The group model capitalizes on the learning style of adults -- adults learn best when they perceive they need to know about a topic, and adult learning is reinforced when a new skill can be practiced immediately and ongoing support and feedback are available to promote long-term change.

At Parents AnonymousSM meetings, parents discuss communication, discipline, child development, parental roles, effective strategies for helping children achieve independence and self-control, methods for successfully dealing with the everyday stresses of parenting, and any other issues that affect their parenting behavior. Parents AnonymousSM is equally as appropriate for parents who are under stress and need information and support as for parents who have experienced difficulties requiring professional intervention from child protective services or courts. Because all aspects of parents' lives may affect their relationship with their children, all relevant topics are open for discussion. To reinforce and solidify their new skills, parents practice new behaviors at home and discuss the results at the meeting each week. Attitudes dramatically change and form the basis for integrating new knowledge and skills, helping parents to successfully foster the healthy growth and development of their children.

Parents are given an opportunity to experience the safety and caring of the group, to be trusted and to know others who are trustworthy, and to take charge of their lives and their families while knowing that the group members will be available to help them as needed. Parents find an environment where they can talk about their serious concerns and specific events and behaviors that may be problematic. In this setting, new behaviors are learned and incorporated into daily life. Through the mutual support of the group, parents grow stronger by developing new self-images that are positive, capable, and responsible.

Through interactions with their peers, parents identify their options, examine their attitudes toward childrearing, and learn positive ways of relating to their children. Group members and the facilitator also exchange telephone numbers; this offers 24-hour support to parents when they experience a crisis or stress. The strong peer connections parents build within the group often are reinforced through telephone calls and other personal contacts outside the group. The foundation of the group is reciprocity -- in addition to receiving help from the group, every parent has the opportunity to offer help to other group members and become a leader. Parents who reach out and provide help thus benefit as much as or more than the parents who receive their assistance.

When necessary, courts mandate parents to attend parenting classes; Parents AnonymousSM is one resource. The mutual support environment of a Parents AnonymousSM group has been proven effective in reducing resistance and breaking through denial of the need for personal change.

Becoming a parent is a major developmental transition for anyone. In an ideal world, all young people would grow up in nurturing, supportive homes with positive role models who would fully prepare them to be loving and responsible parents to their own children. Unfortunately, reality for many is very different. Many parents are still struggling to reconcile issues related to their own development and may be so overwhelmed with their own needs and fears that they are unable to focus as much as necessary on meeting their children's needs. If a parent's self-image is still that of a child who needs approval, support, and acceptance, it is unlikely that information about positive parenting techniques will elicit significant change. If anything, parents may feel rage, grief, and loss about their childhoods as they learn more about what is necessary for the well-being of children. Parents with many unmet needs may not be motivated to attend a parenting class. They may need to understand the benefits to their own lives in order to participate.

Parents AnonymousSM addresses these issues by providing a safe and supportive place in which parents can unload excess emotional baggage from their life experiences so that they can focus on their role as parents and the joys and responsibilities inherent in that role. Once that transition takes place, parents are often ready and eager for help and support as they work to become more effective caregivers. Furthermore, many parents find Parents AnonymousSM a valuable resource following participation in structured, time-limited parent education classes.

Barriers to Change

Much is known about risk factors facing parents and children and about ways to develop the protective factors that can overcome the impact of risk factors. However, risk factors often present a barrier to obtaining support and taking advantage of educational opportunities. For example, the following challenges -- often faced by families involved in public child welfare systems and the courts -- also can be barriers to seeking and using the help that is available:

Bullet Social and emotional isolation.
Bullet Lack of assurance about what is "normal," perhaps leading to harsh self-judgment, self-protectiveness, or fear of speaking out.
Bullet Family rules about keeping secrets and lack of trust in others.
Bullet Lack of resources.
Bullet High stress and frequent crisis situations.
Bullet Lack of awareness of options for change, and lack of hope in the possibility of change.
Bullet Exposure to people who inappropriately use power and control, which leads to a sense of helplessness and lack of trust in authority figures.
Bullet Unmet needs from one's own childhood.

All Parents AnonymousSM programs are confidential unless the health or safety of a child is at risk. Based on State law, Parents AnonymousSM facilitators are required to report suspected child abuse and neglect. It is the policy of Parents AnonymousSM that parents are always made aware of the reporting requirements when they attend their first Parents AnonymousSM group. In those situations serious enough to warrant a report, concerns are initially discussed with the parent involved, who is encouraged and supported in making a self-report. If he or she is unwilling or unable to do so, the facilitator will make the report and will continue to provide support to the parent. Suspected situations of child abuse and neglect may be identified when:

Bullet A parent discloses a particular concern about his or her behavior.
Bullet An emerging pattern of behavior leads to concern about a parent's ability to cope in a healthy way with the stresses of parenthood.
Bullet A child in childcare exhibits signs of or verbally reports abuse or neglect.

The need to make a report provides an opportunity to promote the parent's role, responsibilities, and power in managing his or her interaction with the child by keeping the parent involved in the process as much as possible. The child's safety is always the primary concern, but parents are encouraged to participate in the report, including making a self-report when appropriate.

Parents AnonymousSM Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  April 1999