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BMC Psychol. 2017 Oct 23;5(1):35. doi: 10.1186/s40359-017-0204-1.

The effectiveness of universal parenting programmes: the CANparent trial.

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Centre for Educational Development, Appraisal and Research (CEDAR), University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, UK.
CEDAR and Centre for Education Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK.



There is substantial evidence for the efficacy and effectiveness of targeted parenting programmes but much less evidence regarding universal parenting programmes. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the effectiveness of the CANparent Trial of 12 universal parenting programmes, which were made available to parents of all children aged 0-6 years in three local authorities in England. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study of universal parenting programmes on this scale.


Parents accessed a voucher, value £100, to attend an accredited programme of parenting classes. Parents completed measures of their mental well-being, parenting efficacy, parenting satisfaction, and parenting stress, at pre- and post-course. Comparative data were derived from a sample of non-participant parents in 16 local authorities not providing CANparent programmes. A quasi-experimental design was adopted following estimation of propensity scores to balance the two groups on socio-demographic variables.


Following their programme, changes in parenting stress were small and nonsignificant (Cohen's d frequency 0.07; intensity, 0.17). Participating parents showed significantly greater improvements than the comparison group for parenting efficacy (0.89) but not parenting satisfaction (-0.01). Mental well-being improved from 0.29 SD below the national norm to the national norm after the course. Parents were overwhelmingly positive about their course (88-94%) but this was lower for improvement in their relationship with their child (74%) and being a better parent (76%).


The CANparent Trial demonstrated that universal parenting programmes can be effective in improving parents' sense of parenting efficacy and mental well-being when delivered to the full range of parents in community settings. However, there was no evidence of a reduction in levels of parenting stress; nor was there a significant improvement in satisfaction with being a parent. This is the first study of its kind in the UK; although the results point to a population benefit, more research is needed to determine whether benefits can be maintained in the longer term and whether they will translate into better parenting practices.

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