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Br J Gen Pract. 2002 Mar; 52(476): 223–233.
PMCID: PMC1314244

Meta-analysis of the effectiveness of parenting programmes in improving maternal psychosocial health.


The purpose of this study was to determine whether group-based parenting programmes are effective in improving maternal psychosocial health. Data sources used were English and non-English language articles published between January 1970 and July 2000, retrieved using a keyword search of a number of biomedical, social science, educational, and general reference electronic databases. Two independent reviewers selected the relevant abstracts and articles. Only controlled trials were included in which participants had been randomly allocated to an experimental and a control group, the latter being a waiting-list, no-treatment or a placebo control group. Studies had to include at least one group-based parenting programme and one standardised instrument measuring maternal psychosocial health. Means, standard deviations, and information regarding study quality were selected from the included studies by two independent reviewers. The treatment effect for each outcome in each study was standardised by dividing the mean difference in post-intervention scores for the intervention and treatment group, by the pooled standard deviation, to produce an effect size. The results were then combined in a meta-analysis using a fixed-effect model. A total of 23 studies met all the inclusion criteria and 17 of these provided sufficient data with which to calculate effect sizes. Fifteen of these studies provided data on the five main outcomes of interest: depression, anxiety/stress, self-esteem, social support, and relationship with partner. The meta-analyses show statistically significant results favouring the intervention group for depression (-0.3, 95% confidence interval [CI] = -0.4 to -0.1), anxiety/stress (-0.5, 95% CI = -0.7 to -0.3), self-esteem (-0.4, 95% CI = -0.6 to -0.1), and relationship with partner (-0.4, 95% CI = -0.7 to -0.2). However, the meta-analysis of the social support data showed no evidence of effectiveness (-0.04, 95% CI = -0.3 to 0.2). Follow-up data were available for only three of the five outcomes. The results show that there were changes favouring the intervention group for self-esteem (-0.4, 95% CI = -0.7 to -0.2), the mother's relationship with her partner (-0.3, 95% CI = -0.8 to 0.1), and depression (-0.2, 95% CI = -0.4 to 0.002), although the confidence intervals for the mother's relationship with her partner and depression both cross zero. It is concluded that parenting programmes can make a significant contribution to the short-term psychosocial health of mothers. While the limited follow-up data are promising, further evidence of their effectiveness in improving maternal mental health is required. It is also suggested that some caution should be exercised before the results are generalised to parents irrespective of the level of pathology present.

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Selected References

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