Summary of the Parenting Education Field

Excerpt from “A Closer Look at Diverse Roles of Practitioners in Parenting Education:

Peer Educators, Paraprofessionals and Professionals”

Stephanie T. Jones, Mary Kay Stranik, M. Gayle Hart, Sandra McClintic, and Judith Rae Wolf

Parenting education consists of periodic education and support for parents to strengthen families by promoting an optimal environment for healthy adult and child development (NPEN, n.d.). Parenting education and support services are intended to build confidence and competence of parents to care for children and increase their capacity to prevent and respond effectively to family life issues and problems as they arise. It is an effective intervention for addressing multiple social problems such as child abuse, juvenile crime, teen pregnancy, and academic disengagement (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006).

Parenting education is for all parents, regardless of age of children or family configuration. Most often parenting education is conducted in groups; however, one-on-one consultations, home visits, and center-based services are common.

Sponsors of parenting education are many and varied. They include community agencies, religious organizations, courts, public and private schools, mental health, public health, Departments of Social Services, Cooperative Extension, hospitals, senior centers, family resource centers, businesses and employers, and professional affiliate groups (Bryan, DeBord & Schrader, 2006).

The roots of parenting education can be found in many disciplines such as education, social work, health care, mental health, and human services (Carter & Kahn, 1996; Bryan, et al., 2006; Heath & Palm, 2006). Practitioners representing these disciplines provide a range of parenting education services. Professionals most often deliver parenting education; however, peer educators and paraprofessionals also provide services to families. Methodologies, approaches and intensity of services provided by practitioners vary (Carter & Kahn, 1996; Duncan & Goddard, 2007), though they should be complementary (Heath & Palm, 2006).

The success of parenting education is largely dependent on having qualified educators (Campbell & Palm, 2004). Opportunities to develop oneself as a parenting educator and to be recognized vary by region and state. The “Framework for Understanding Parenting Educator Professional Preparation and Recognition” provides a foundation for the future development of a career ladder for parenting educators (see NPEN, 2011b).

The number of program and state sponsored parenting educator recognition systems, also known as credentialing systems, is increasing. NPEN (2011a) identified professional preparation and recognition systems available in parenting education. These recognition systems typically include an assessment of parenting educators’ qualifications (i.e. education and experience, as well as knowledge, skills, and attitudes/dispositions) related to working with families. In 2002, North Carolina became the first state in the United States to offer such a system (Bryan, et. al, 2006).

Agreement upon a core set of ethics and competencies as well as licensure are important milestones along the path of professionalization of a field (Czaplewski & Jorgensen, 1993; DeBord & Matta, 2002; East, 1980). Extension Specialists and national program leaders were among the first to propose competencies specifically for parenting education. In 1994, a team developed the National Extension Parenting Education Model (NEPEM) to guide the content of what parenting educators teach parents (Smith, Cudaback, Goddard, & Myers-Walls, 1994). Then in 2000, another team developed the National Extension Parenting Education Framework (NEPEF), which framed the processes that parenting educators perform in their work with parents and families (DeBord, et. al., 2002). More recently, after a thorough review of numerous national and international sources, McDermott (2011) proposed 10 competency areas for parenting education that include: lifespan and human development, child and parent development, family relationships/dynamics, guidance and nurturing, family diversity, school/child care relationships, community relationships, health and safety, professional practice/adult education methods, assessment and evaluation, public and organizational policies, ethics, and laws. McDermott also has organized related competencies into the 10 areas identified from existing sources. Members of NPEN are currently using McDermott’s comprehensive list of competencies to propose a refined list of competencies for parenting educators.

Minnesota is currently the only state to require licensure of professional parenting educators. The Minnesota parent and family education license was instituted in 1989 and is both a teacher license and a license specific to parent and family education. The license is required of those working in early childhood family education (ECFE) programs in public schools in Minnesota.

Around 1970, many parenting education programs were generated in the community and commonly utilized peer educators and paraprofessionals. It wasn’t until academic programs related to parenting education began to be offered that degreed professional parenting educators emerged in larger numbers. These formal educational programs have increased and expanded. The increase in academic degree programs related to parenting education has helped to provide continuity for professional parenting educator preparation and clarified their role, but less attention has been given to other practitioners in the field. Furthermore, most existing recognition systems focus on professionals and paraprofessionals; few recognize peer educators. North Carolina currently has the only parenting educator recognition system that offers a credential for peer educators.