AIFS seminar series presentation

Photo of presenter10:00 am – 11:15 am, Tuesday 18 October 2011, AIFS Seminar Room, Melbourne

Early Parenting Support for Vulnerable Families: Why, what and how?

Professor Jan M. Nicholson, Director of Research at the Parenting Research Centre

View presentation slides (PDF 10.1 MB) | Read slide outline | Listen to the presentation audio (MP3 12.8 MB) | Read audio transcript

Professor Jan M. Nicholson is the Director of Research at the Parenting Research Centre, Honorary Principal Research Fellow at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, and Adjunct Professor in the Centre for Learning Innovation, Queensland University of Technology. She has a background in child and family psychology with post-doctoral training in public health. Jan's research examines the influence of contemporary family, social and organisational environments on children's healthy development, with a particular focus on vulnerable families.

Jan is the Design Team Leader for parenting and family functioning in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC), a national study tracking the health and development of two cohorts of 5,000 children each. She heads an NHMRC-funded cohort study of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, commencing recruitment in 2011, and is co-investigator on studies promoting effective parenting, early literacy and healthy early life nutrition.


Supporting families to provide their children with optimal opportunities in early life is strongly emphasised in Australian government policies. With increasing services and resources being directed to this area, it is timely to review what is being achieved. In this presentation, I will draw on data from a variety of sources to briefly examine the case for early intervention and the limitations of traditional parenting programs from a population health perspective. Using three examples of large-scale implementation trials, I will discuss some new directions in early intervention parenting programs. Sing & Grow (a nation-wide program) and the Early Home Learning Study (Victoria) employ joint parent-child groups to provide early parenting support and opportunities to foster children's developmental skills. Both focus on reaching vulnerable and socially disadvantaged populations. NOURISH (Queensland and South Australia) promotes positive parenting skills within the context of providing first time mothers with parenting advice around their infant's nutrition. Each of these programs takes an innovative approach to reaching and engaging parents of young children. Data from the trials suggest that universal service platforms (maternal child health and playgroups) can be effective in identifying and reaching the parents of young children, and when adequately resourced, it is possible to maintain program effectiveness across wide-spread implementation. Parental engagement remains challenging, with programs that are less didactic and more experiential and fun-based appearing to have advantages in terms of retention over time. Implications for future research and services will be discussed.

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