April 21, 1997
National Parenting Education Network
In 1995, an ad hoc group of national leaders in parenting education and family support began meeting to consider the "future of parenting education." Despite phenomenal growth in this young field, there exists relatively little organizational support specifically focused on networking, professional growth, knowledge development, and standard-setting among this important group of practitioners.
The National Parenting Education Network (NPEN) is the result of nearly three years of meetings and discussions spawned by this original group. Building step by step, NPEN is developing a national organization to advance the field of parenting education. Progress has been rapid and exciting, including the creation of a volunteer management team and task forces that are conducting projects in critical areas relevant to parenting education.
Over the past year, several NPEN presentations have been made at major conferences and the NPEN management team welcomed the opportunity provided by the Parenthood in America Conference to meet with other parent educators and to take important next steps in strengthening and expanding NPEN. The time spend together was extremely useful for gaining more insight into the major needs expressed by parenting educators, for setting priorities, and for achieving consensus on next steps.
Approximately 80 people attended the workshop including 9 members of the management team. The session was chaired by Rae Simpson of the MIT Family Resource Center, who is the founding chair of NPEN, and Anne S. Robertson of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, who is the interim chair. Professor Robert Bright of the University of Wisconsin served as the facilitator for the workshop, arranged through the generosity of the conference organizers.
During preconference planning it was decided that after a brief welcome, history of the organization, and information on the current status of the organization--including the difficulties that the group is facing--the participants would have an opportunity to provide important feedback that would assist with resolving some of those difficulties.
Professor Bright asked for the group's consensus on a direction to proceed. There was a clear endorsement, without dissension, to develop the concept of a central clearinghouse focused on identifying, collecting, and disseminating high quality, culturally appropriate parenting education information. This clearinghouse would provide easy access to parenting education resources as well as facilitate collaboration with existing organizations and databases that are currently providing various aspects of this service.
Many of the participants expressed a feeling of working in isolation and a need not only to link with other parenting educators but also to expand their professional abilities through access to additional training. Some comments from the session are as follows:
I would like to endorse a clearinghouse for information. I do a center in Boston and a lot of people think it is a clearinghouse. I get a lot of calls and try and send information out when I can. We need information on training, degrees, and courses available. This mechanism would be important.
We need to make sure that collaboration is not just rhetoric.
We feel isolation. . .we are nowhere [North Dakota]. Often we can't run a curriculum "as is" from where we are. We don't have time to re-do curricula. We need more resources. I want access to organizations and systems that will deal with the isolation many of our parenting educators feel.
Parenting programs are hard to find because they are embedded and funding changes each year.
We [Parents As Teachers state affiliate] look for a way to give our parent educators some kind of credibility. For example, we offer a certificate to become a prevention specialist. I see a tiered system with many continuing education units. (CEU)
We need to consider, at what point and to what extent will we be linking to parents with disabilities.
I endorse the idea of a database of programs with evaluation and research. What works and doesn't work? How can we tie this in with child abuse prevention and neglect initiatives?
Aiming to be inclusive is correct in terms of philosophy and orientation. What about best practices?
Professor Bright next encouraged participants to "vote with their feet" and make a commitment to a task group to develop a more detailed statement of parenting educators' information needs. Participants split into smaller task groups and spent the next hour discussing issues that were relevant to specific areas. Rae Simpson, Anne Robertson and Professor Bright visited the various task groups to listen to comments, gather key ideas and briefly summarize those comments before lunch.
The management team met again during lunch to analyze the morning session and develop a plan for presenting the afternoon session. The team identified six areas of consensus that seemed to emerge from the morning discussion, and it was decided that the best use of the group's time was to highlight areas of consensus and get the group's input, incorporating any suggested changes.
Anne Robertson presented the areas of consensus that appeared to emerge from the morning meeting, and Professor Bright facilitated the discussion, encouraging the group to think of steps that could be taken in these areas during the next six months to a year, and to prioritize those recommendations. One area of critical concern was standards and competencies for parenting education. However, after discussion, consensus was reached to consider this a long-term goal, since it would be impossible to validate competencies in parenting education without first developing the clearinghouse of parenting education resources and performing a comprehensive assessment.
By the close of the afternoon session, consensus was reached on five major immediate recommendations, including one key project, and participants had the opportunity to sign up for a task group and for participation in the general National Parenting Education Network effort.
The group identified the following needs of the field that should to be addressed simultaneously as part of the development of a Parenting Education Clearinghouse:
All of these activities lead to two overarching outcomes recommended by the group to be accomplished within the next six months to one year. One is the development of a Parenting Education Clearinghouse. The second is the development of a permanent structure that would support the needs identified by parenting educators to advance the field of parenting education.
There was clear consensus from the conference participants that there is a need for easy access to high quality, culturally appropriate resources for parenting education through a single point of access. Discussions on this issue have contributed to momentum toward the creation of such a clearinghouse for several years.
The National Parenting Education Network has emerged from parenting education professionals' desire to share information and resources which has been done informally for several years. Parenting education may become over-shadowed by family support or parent advocacy initiatives, and parents' questions regarding such topics as child development, nutrition, health, and appropriate child discipline can be lost in the larger program context. A key discussion on this topic occurred during a Wingspread Conference hosted by Family Resource Coalition of America (FRCA) in October 1997 and attended by NPEN management team members Harriet Heath and Anne Robertson. It was clear that there was a desire for more resources for parenting and family support, but that there was also significant concern that existing resources in parenting education did not include respectful, culturally diverse information.
Any clearinghouse focused on resources for parenting education would need to actively seek out, gather together, and likely develop, appropriate resources for culturally diverse parenting and family support practice. Dissemination of this information (in response to questions and proactively through publications and presentations) would be a primary objective of such a clearinghouse.
Other discussions on this topic followed in November of 1997 at the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) conference and at the Families, Technology and Education (FTE) conference. There was also informal dialogue on the value of building support the early childhood parenting education professionals at the 1997 National Association for the Education of Young Children(NAEYC) conference. Clearly, the need for access to parenting education resources and support crosses organizational and professional lines and could serve as a principle that links organizations together and reduces the embeddedness of parenting education in other fields.
With the conceptual endorsement of this idea by the participants of the Parenthood in America Conference, the group decided that the National Parenting Education Network and the Parenting Education Clearinghouse could serve as catalysts to address the identified needs of the field asset out here.
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