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Title: Promoting Relationships after Divorce and Separation
Ethics approval number: 2010/101
Researchers name(s) Bonnie Barber, Jan Fletcher, Gaynor Edwards

Aim:

The primary purpose of this project was to evaluate a mental health promotion program designed to increase effective functioning of single mother families. The innovative program focused on the unique challenges faced by divorced-mother families during adolescence, without assuming a deficit in the parenting ability of divorced mothers; acknowledging the capabilities as well as the vulnerabilities of adolescents; emphasising family contexts related to healthy adolescent adjustment.

Program description

The RAD program consists of two components: the Teen Awareness Group (TAG) and Effective Single Parenting (ESP), and includes seven weekly meetings, lasting approximately two hours. The program draws from strategies used in successful programs, such as interactive methods and opportunities to try out or practice new skills.

Activities for the adolescents in TAG are very structured, and include ice-breakers, games, role plays, and group discussions. Games are a developmentally appropriate method by which adolescents are made aware of goals and objectives. We have been successful at keeping the adolescents focused and involved throughout the two-hour session by using a variety of games. In addition to games, role plays are an important part of the adolescent component. Role playing allows the participants to put session goals and objectives into practice. Finally, discussions provide an opportunity for participants to process certain goals and objectives. Discussions also provide facilitators with feedback regarding participants' understanding of program goals and objectives. To supplement the discussion process, each week, the adolescents are given a task that asks them to generalize skills into their daily life. All sessions conclude with journal writing, providing the participants the opportunity to reflect on the topics covered and the potential impact of the information on their lives.

The ESP sessions include time for socializing, an educational component (through mini-lectures, structured interaction in small groups, learning exercises, and discussion), activities to facilitate transfer to the home environment (e.g., role playing, sharing personal examples), problem solving as a group, and question and answer sessions. Mothers are provided educational information on adolescent development, and on how they can influence the development of life skills in their early adolescent children.

Effectiveness of the program

A total of seven mother-teen dyads completed the learn-at-home program (including the return of post-test measures). Although there were other families who started the learn-at-home program, they were generally much less engaged than group participants, and less than 50% returned follow-up questionnaires. As fewer families elected to participate in the learn-at-home program, and many dropped out, it appears that the participants found the learn-at-home program less appealing and less beneficial than the group program. The small number of participants in the learn-at-home program meant that comparison of outcomes with those who participated in group program was not possible.

A total of 64 mother-teen dyads participated in the group format of RAD. Of these families, 48 mothers and 50 adolescents returned follow-up questionnaires, either at one-week follow-up, at another time point, or multiple time points. Statistical analysis indicated a significant decrease in depression, anxiety and stress from pre-test to one-week follow-up. It appears that participation in RAD helped mothers to reduce their levels of depression, anxiety and stress. Mothers also reported higher parenting efficacy and better communication with their teen. Teens experienced slightly better well-being, but did not improve in all areas measured.

For more details, feel free to contact Professor Bonnie Barber by email: b.barber@murdoch.edu.au