Our Digital Parenting resources are tools that have been conceived and designed to reach parents through digital formats such as online and/or mobile applications, texting and chat services.
Due to the impact of COVID-19, it is more challenging for in-person parenting programmes to reach families in need. ParentChat is a newly developed online version of the Parenting for Lifelong Health programmes for young children and adolescents, which will be delivered through online messaging services such as WhatsApp or Viber. The programme aims to improve parent-child relationships and child well-being, reduce child maltreatment and to increase the availability of parenting programmes for vulnerable families.
The programme will run for 8 weeks and is available for parents who have children between the ages of 2 to 17. Each week of the programme includes 2 chat sessions, each lasting one hour, with a trained facilitator who will guide parents through evidence-based parenting tips and activities. In these chat sessions, facilitators will discuss ways to strengthen the parent-child relationship through group conversation, activities and storytelling, covering themes including:
Additional content will be provided for children with disabilities.
Parents will be encouraged to give regular feedback regarding successes and challenges applying these parenting skills in the online group chat. The facilitator will then provide a brief summary of the feedback and address possible solutions to 2-3 key challenges. Throughout the week the facilitator will also provide interactive learning experiences through helpful tips, fun activities, and reminders, to help parents develop and apply the skills they have learnt across the entire programme.
ParentChat is currently being prepared for delivery in six countries; Malaysia, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Philippines, and South Africa.
A pilot study of the programme will test the initial feasibility and impact of ParentChat with 900 families in 2021 before wider release.
ParentChat has been developed in collaboration with the following research partners.
For more information on ParentChat click here
The programme will be delivered in collaboration with local government and non-governmental organisations. The University of Cape Town will be partnering with Clowns without Borders, the Department of Social Development and Mothers2Mothers for delivery in South Africa. Researchers at Ateneo de Manila University are planning dissemination with the Department of Social Welfare and Development in the Philippines. ParentChat will be delivered by The National Population and Family Development Board at the Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development in Malaysia, with support from Universiti Putra Malaysia. The remaining partners; Alternativa in North Macedonia, Health for Youth Association in Moldova and UNICEF in Montenegro, will each deliver ParentChat in their respective country.
Pilot testing of ParentChat is funded by the UKRI GCRF/Newton Fund, the LEGO Foundation, the philanthropic donors to the University of Oxford’s COVID-19 Research Response Fund, the Oak Foundation, The Human Safety Net, UNICEF Philippines and UNICEF Malaysia and the UKRI GCRF Accelerating Achievement for Africa’s Adolescents (Accelerate) Hub.
ParentText is an automated text messaging service for parents of children aged 0 to 17. It is delivered using RapidPro, an open-source application serving low-income communities without smartphone access, and also through text messaging platforms such as Telegram, WhatsApp, and Facebook messenger. Text message and free social media messaging services have the potential reach to an estimated 70% of the world population, including those with basic handsets. Parents are recruited through social media, implementing partners, government agencies, schools, clinics, grocery stores, and radio and T.V. broadcasts. The application supports multiple languages, including English and local languages.
In order to maximise engagement, enrolment is possible via multiple processes either by following a QR code, clicking on a weblink, or sending a message to a prespecified number. Once they have enrolled, parents with even basic feature phones are able to select the data usage package they wish to receive with free messages that can include both texts as well as images, GIFs, animations, and videos.
Parents are also able to choose from basic, medium and high data use options. Parents without data packages may even receive text messages via SMS where available, especially if there are existing agreements between service providers and telecommunication companies for zero-rated messages.
ParentText targets parents with children aged 0 to 17 and contains specific content based on development stages for parents of children aged 0-23 months, 2-9 years, 10-17 years.
Messages are delivered to parents over an average of 5 weeks depending on the frequency selected by parents. The content of the ParentText message delivery system is derived from the PLH evidence-based parenting programmesthat have been rigorously tested in Asia. The messages are grouped into three main themes: 1) Relationship building by spending time together, 2) Positive reinforcement (i.e., praise, daily routines, and child behaviour management), and 3) Stress reduction for parents and caregivers. Additional content is available including specific support for parents of children living with disabilities, child development, online child safety, talking about COVID19 with children, family budgeting, family harmony, helping with schoolwork, and sexual violence prevention.
Parents experience the text message delivery system in three ways:
Scheduled text messages include daily activities tailored by child age (e.g., “Spend 20 minutes of One-on-One Time each day with your children – tell them a story from your own childhood), reminders, (‘Remember - 20 minutes of One-on-One Time with your child will increase their brain development’) and responses (‘You did it! Well done - you are a star!’).
On-demand content allows for user-directed engagement in which parents and caregivers self-select content that is most relevant to their context and developmental stage of their children, as well as two- way interaction and feedback.
Weekly assessments examines the impact of the messages on parenting, parental stress, and child behaviour by collecting fully anonymised data (opt-in) at registration and weekly intervals.
The ParentText message delivery system also has the capability to help parents solve challenges with their children based on typical challenges faced by parents in similar situations, and information parents provide about their own circumstance. Much like a chatbot you may have interacted with through your banking system or when booking an airline ticket (although more empathic and engaging!), the system offers conversation-like tips in response to parents’ requests. Lastly, the text messages provide opportunities for referrals to local resources (e.g., domestic abuse and mental health hotlines, health clinics, and child protection services).
Users of automated services often try to get other forms of help by messaging the chatbot and disclosing personal situations in the free text fields. These users might include women and children at risk and survivors of violence, whose numbers are increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Users at risk of violence who attempt to disclose their situation or ask for help often receive no acknowledgement or support from typical chatbot services. Based on UNICEF chatbot safeguarding guidelines, ParentText is designed to recognise high risk keywords to detect possible disclosure of a dangerous situation in free text fields. After detection, the chatbot is automated to offer the user an empathetic and empowering response and contact details on where to access professional or urgent help (e.g. police, ambulance, hotline).
For more information on ParentText, check one of our Concept Documents here.
ParentApp will be available soon.
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