Since 1978, Parents Anonymous of South Carolina has helped thousands of parents through free, weekly mutual support groups.
In 2005, Trustees of The Duke Endowment approved a grant to help the organization expand services in six rural counties. The counties were targeted because several factors put children at high risk for abuse and neglect.
Marty Banks has led Parents Anonymous of South Carolina since 1987. Before retiring in 2010, she talked about the program and the way it works to strengthen families.
In South Carolina, how many parents participate in Parents Anonymous support groups?
In 2009, more than 2,200 parents were involved in 83 Parents Anonymous support groups – and 38 of those adult groups also offered children’s programs. So with the parents and children combined, Parents Anonymous reached nearly 1,700 families in South Carolina.
What happens during a typical support group meeting?
When a parent comes into a group they are welcomed by the group facilitator and the parent leader. They receive information about how the group operates, and they receive a little handbook that is called “I am a Parents Anonymous Parent.” They also get some other Parents Anonymous literature that they can use – something they can take away with them.
The group meeting starts with a welcoming statement explaining that they are part of an international group of people who want to be better parents, want to be more involved in their children’s lives and want to do things to improve life for children in their communities.
After that, parents can go around the room and talk about what they’ve been working on that week and what information they need. A lot of time is spent on parenting skills, but they might also ask questions about finding a job. The parents determine what they need to talk about and what problems they’re encountering – and they basically own the solution to those problems.
What is the role of the group facilitator?
Working in a shared leadership role with a trained parent group leader, the group facilitator is trained in the Parents Anonymous model to be a resource to the group if the group is struggling with information and parents aren’t able to come up with answers on their own.
How long do most parents stay involved?
Parents can join a group at any time for as long as they wish. On average, they’ll attend for about six months – but it is also not uncommon to find parents who attend for several years. The group becomes their extended family and they take on increasing roles of leadership.
Groups are community-based or neighborhood-based, and they generally meet in places where parents tend to naturally gather, such as schools, churches or community centers. They generally meet weekly and they are always free of charge.
How does this model prevent child abuse and neglect?
Knowing they have a group of people they can reach out to reduces the stress and isolation that could lead to child abuse. Parents learn there are community resources and a facilitator to link them to those resources, whether it’s food stamps or individual counseling or school resources for their children.
Some parents are ordered by a court to attend group sessions, right?
That’s right. But most parents come voluntarily. According to our records, 32 percent of parents joined a group because of something they heard from another parent participant; 22 percent joined because of Parents Anonymous literature.
Why is it so important for the groups to be “parent-driven?”
Actually, the entire Parents Anonymous organization is parent-driven. It began with one single mother who worked with her social worker to form a group of parents to talk to about common concerns.
At the group level, parents practice and learn solutions to their problems. When people feel they are empowered to make changes without hearing “You are a bad parent and you have to do something different,” that’s when real change occurs.
By driving the discussion, parents in the groups realize that their insights and abilities are valued. What happens in the group then gets translated into what happens in the family, and then what happens in the community.
How does it affect what happens in the community?
We believe that if people work together in the spirit of shared leadership, they can achieve lasting solutions. That’s our basic premise. Working to empower people is a hallmark of our program.
The Duke Endowment grant helped Parents Anonymous move into six rural S.C. counties. Was the initiative successful?
We promised that we would start 30 Parents Anonymous adult groups at those six sites. Thirty-six were started in all and today, after the project has officially ended, there are still 28 that are continuously operating. They have served over 1,350 parents and children between 2007 and today.
In terms of evaluation, the Endowment wasn’t interested in having us measure parent progress or evaluate how the parents were doing. A research study by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency had just been done nationwide to look at that. The Endowment was interested in whether the groups were operating under the specific standards and principles that the national evaluation said would provide good outcomes for families.
With the grant, a “Group Fidelity Tool” was developed by Parents Anonymous and piloted in our program. The scores showed that the groups are following the Parents Anonymous model and adhering to group standards. That tool, by the way, is now being used across the country.
Do all six counties still have Parents Anonymous support groups?
Only one county has not been able to continue. The other remaining counties have done remarkably well. So, yes, I think the effort has been tremendously successful.
Phillip H. Redmond Jr.
Director of Child Care