Positive parenting from the very beginning

There is now a common clinical consensus that the first 1001 days of a child’s life are crucial in shaping their future development and achievements. This is a view which is now gaining traction in government and policy circles.

The trailblazing work of Dame Andrea Leadsom MP and the cross-party ‘Best Start to Life Strategy’ has set out a framework for this key period, and how parents and carers can be supported along the way. This work has been bolstered by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge through the Royal Foundation’s Centre for Early Childhood1.

Family Hubs are set to deliver a clear direction for local, well-funded, inclusive services to provide support for families from the very start of a child’s life. Alongside this, the Government’s ongoing SEND Review sets out ambitious reforms to the support available for children with special educational needs, in school, community and home settings.

As we finally see the importance of the Early Years recognised, high-quality support for all parents during this integral part of a child’s development is vital. To align with this goal, we are delighted to be launching the Triple P for Baby programme in the UK.

Normalising parenting support

Triple P programmes focus on non-judgemental, positive and evidence-based support, offered to parents at any stage in family life. This approach is hugely important. A Royal Foundation survey found that 70% of parents of under 5-year-olds reported feeling ‘judged’ in their parenting, so it’s no wonder parents may be reluctant to ask for support. As a result, it is important that parenting programmes are positive, prevention-focussed, and ideally, universally available, to ensure the best outcomes for parents and children alike.

Normalising parenting support in the early days can help address this, making parenting education and support as readily accepted and available as ante-natal classes. The increased emphasis on, and recognition of, parent-infant relationships and perinatal mental health and wellbeing also underscores the need for a programme for parents-to-be and new parents. That’s why we’re so excited to see Triple P for Baby made available to families across the country.

Triple P for Baby helps parents of babies under a year old, offering practical information at a time of great change for families. It is delivered over an interactive 8-session programme which includes four (2-hour) group or 1:1 sessions where parents participate in a range of activities to learn about building the bond with their baby, encouraging healthy development, and positive strategies to teach their baby new skills as they get older. Parents also learn about coping with common emotional and relationship changes a baby’s arrival brings. The four sessions are followed by four individual consultations to help parents with independent problem solving as they practise their new skills at home.

Although only recently launched in the UK, the programme has already seen significant interest from existing partners across the country. Part of this is due to its flexibility and place in the wider network of family support programmes which the government are seeking to prioritise.

The case for support in the early years

As part of Triple P’s ongoing evaluation programme, research is delivered in partnership with a range of academic organisations around the world.

Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs) of Triple P for Baby (aka Baby Triple P in the literature) have been conducted in Germany, Scotland, Australia, and the UK. These include separate trials with fathers, couples, mothers, parents with multiple risk factors, mothers with post-natal depression, and parents of pre-term babies.

Overall, parents consistently reported being satisfied to very satisfied with the Triple P for Baby programme. They said it gave the right amount of help, the right type of help, met their needs. Many also said it improved their relationship, was accessible and engaging, and gave them a sense of achievement when completing the programme.

Specific results from particular trials included:

  • Babies around six-months of age were awake and content significantly more often, with significantly lower frequency and duration of inconsolable crying2
  • At two years of age, pre-term children had significantly higher cognitive function and motor skills3
  • First-time mothers report significantly lower levels of depression at post-intervention4
  • First-time fathers report significantly lower levels of anxiety at post-intervention, 12- and 24-month follow-up5

These trials and others demonstrate Triple P for Baby’s ability to deliver outcomes both for universal and targeted samples of parents. The Randomised Control Trial (RCT) by the Glasgow Caledonian University, cited above, involved more than 150 couples drawn from a universal sample of first time parents. Before completing the program, parents reported low levels of depression, anxiety and stress, with parents who reported pre-existing mental health concerns being excluded for this study. Notably, the trial delivered positive outcomes for both mothers depression and fathers anxiety in this sample, demonstrating a protective effect on the mental health of first time parents. Parents also report they were “were positive about the intervention and described it as providing the support that they wanted.” The programme was shown to be particularly effective in the engagement of fathers, with father engagement being comparable to mothers. While more research is needed, the study suggests programmes like Triple P for Baby could provide “a valuable addition to perinatal care”. Additionally, another recently published trial from the University of Manchester found that delivery of the Triple P for Baby Programme to women with severe mental illness in Mother and Baby Unit’s provided clinical outcomes which ‘signalled potential improvements in maternal parenting competence, bonding, mood and mental health’. These trials taken together indicate the Triple P for Baby programme’s potential to deliver both targeted and universal benefits.

Triple P is excited to work with partners in the UK & Ireland to further evaluate programmes such as Triple P for Baby, particularly using larger trial groups to strengthen the evidence base. Our discussion with Dame Andrea Leadsom MP in her podcast touched upon our ambitions for the future, and we look forward to working closely with the Department for Health and Social Care to deliver the ‘second half’ of the Best Start to Life Strategy.

Triple P Online for Baby

An exciting aspect of the Triple P for Baby programme is the availability of an online version. Using technology to improve the reach of programmes helps meet the recommendations of The Social Mobility Commission, Royal Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Independent Review of Children’s Social Care to increase accessibility.

Triple P Online for Baby is a self-paced programme, covering the same course content as the face-to-face course but with greater flexibility for parents and the course provider. Online engagement is easily supported through follow-up consultations with practitioners.

We have seen online programme uptake grow three-fold during the pandemic, and we are focussed on expanding our online opportunities to ensure evidence-based parenting programmes are more accessible to families across the country.

Over time, we can overcome the stigma attached to seeking help and more importantly, support the health and wellbeing of all babies and children by ensuring all parents feel comfortable asking for support and information.

1. https://centreforearlychildhood.org/

2. Popp, L., Fuths, S., & Schneider, S. (2019). The relevance of infant outcome measures: A pilot-RCT comparing Baby Triple P positive parenting programme with care as usual [Clinical Trial]. Frontiers in Psychology, 10(2425). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02425

3. Colditz, P. B., Boyd, R. N., Winter, L., Pritchard, M., Gray, P. H., Whittingham, K., O'Callaghan, M., Jardine, L., O'Rourke, P., Marquart, L., Forrest, K., Spry, C., & Sanders, M. R. (2019). A randomized trial of Baby Triple P for preterm Infants: Child outcomes at 2 Years of corrected age. The Journal of Pediatrics, 210, 48–54.e2. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2019.01.024

4. McPherson, K, Wiseman, K, Jasilek, A, McAloney-Kocaman, K, Morawska, A & Haig, C 2022, 'Baby Triple P: a randomized controlled trial testing the efficacy in first-time parent couples', Journal of Child and Family Studies, vol. 31, no. 8, pp. 2156-2174. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-022-02345-7

5. McPherson, K, Wiseman, K, Jasilek, A, McAloney-Kocaman, K, Morawska, A & Haig, C 2022, 'Baby Triple P: a randomized controlled trial testing the efficacy in first-time parent couples', Journal of Child and Family Studies, vol. 31, no. 8, pp. 2156-2174. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-022-02345-7