Articles & Research

Effects of eNew Beginnings Program

This study is a randomized controlled trial of an asynchronous, web-based program for divorced
and separated parents, the electronic New Beginnings Program (eNBP). This program is an
adaptation of a group-based, in-person program for divorced parents (NBP) that has been shown
in randomized trials to reduce a wide range of offspring problems and improve a wide range of
competencies up to 15 years later. The 10-module, five-hour program uses evidence-based,
highly interactive strategies to teach skills designed to strengthen parenting after divorce and
reduce interparental conflict. Participants were 131 parents (63% mothers) and 102 offspring
ages 11 to 18. Parents were randomly assigned to the eNBP or a wait-list control condition.
Parents and their children completed pre- and post-tests. Analyses showed that at post-test,
parents and children in the eNBP reported significantly higher parent-child relationship quality,
more effective discipline, lower interparental conflict and lower child mental health problems
than did those in the wait-list control condition. These are the strongest findings in the literature
on the effects of web-based programs to reduce interparental conflict, strengthen positive
parenting and reduce children’s post-divorce mental health problems. Given that parental divorce
has significant individual and societal costs, widespread implementation of this program could
have significant public health implications.

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Close to half of all marriages in the US end in divorce, affecting over 1 million children each year.

These children are at an increased risk of struggling in school, experiencing mental health or substance use problems and engaging in risky sexual behavior. A new study from the Arizona State University Department of Psychology has shown that an online parenting skills program for divorcing or separating parents reduces interparental conflict, improves quality of parenting and decreases children’s anxiety and depression symptoms.

“Most children bounce back after divorce, but anywhere between 25-33% of children have significant problems, including academic challenges, mental health problems, risky sexual behavior and substance use,” said Sharlene Wolchik, professor of psychology at ASU and first author on the paper. “We showed that the online eNew Beginnings Program, which is based on 30 years of research into factors that help kids after divorce, benefits these children.”

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Close to half of all marriages in the US end in divorce, affecting over 1 million children each year. 

These children are at an increased risk of struggling in school, experiencing mental health or substance use problems and engaging in risky sexual behavior. A new study from the Arizona State University Department of Psychology has shown that an online parenting skills program for divorcing or separating parents reduces interparental conflict, improves quality of parenting and decreases children’s anxiety and depression symptoms. 

“Most children bounce back after divorce, but anywhere between 25-33% of children have significant problems, including academic challenges, mental health problems, risky sexual behavior and substance use,” said Sharlene Wolchik, professor of psychology at ASU and first author on the paper. “We showed that the online eNew Beginnings Program, which is based on 30 years of research into factors that help kids after divorce, benefits these children.”

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Effects of In-person eNew Beginnings Program

This study evaluated the efficacy of 2 theory-based preventive interventions for divorced families: a program for mothers and a dual component mother-child program. The mother program targeted mother-child relationship quality, discipline, interparental conflict, and the father-child relationship.The child program targeted active coping, avoidant coping, appraisals of divorce stressors, and mother child relationship quality. Families with a 9- to 12-year-old child (N = 240) were randomly assigned to the mother, dual-component, or self-study program. Post intervention comparisons showed significant positive program effects of the mother program versus self-study condition on relationship quality, discipline, attitude toward father-child contact, and adjustment problems. For several outcomes, more positive effects occurred in families with poorer initial functioning. Program effects on externalizing problems were maintained at 6-month follow-up. A few additive effects of the dual-component program occurred for the putative mediators; none occurred for adjustment problems.occurred for the putative mediators; none occurred for adjustment problems.

Context Compared with their peers with nondivorced parents, adolescents with divorced parents are more likely to have mental health problems, drop out of school, and become pregnant. The long-term effects of intervention programs for this population are unknown.

Objective To evaluate the long-term effectiveness of 2 programs designed to prevent mental health problems in children with divorced parents.

Design and Setting Six-year follow-up of a randomized controlled trial of 2 intervention programs (mother program: 11 group and 2 individual sessions; mother plus child program:
mother program and 11 group sessions for children) and a control condition (books on post-divorce adjustment), which was conducted in a large metropolitan US city from April 1998 through March 2000.

Participants A total of 218 families (91% of the original sample) with adolescents aged between 15 and 19 years were re-interviewed.

Main Outcome Measures Externalizing and internalizing problems, diagnosed mental disorders, drug and alcohol use, and number of sexual partners.

Results Eleven percent of adolescents in the mother plus child program (95% confidence interval [CI], 3.8%-18.2%) had a 1-year prevalence of diagnosed mental disorder compared with 23.5% (95% CI, 13.8%-33.2%) of adolescents in the control program (P=.007). Adolescents in the mother plus child program had fewer sexual partners (mean [SE], 0.68 [0.16]) compared with adolescents in the control program (1.65 [0.37]; P=.01). Adolescents with higher initial mental health problems whose families were in the mother plus child program had lower externalizing problems (P=.007) and fewer symptoms of mental disorder (P=.02) compared with those in the control program. Compared with controls, adolescents whose mothers participated in the mother program and who had higher initial mental health problems had lower levels of externalizing problems (P<.001); fewer symptoms of mental disorder (P=.005); and less alcohol (P=.005), marijuana (P=.02), and other drug use (P=.01).

Conclusions In adolescents of divorced parents, the mother program and the mother plus child program reduced symptoms of mental disorder; rates of diagnoses of mental disorder; levels of externalizing problems; marijuana, alcohol, and other drug use; and number of sexual partners.

This chapter describes the New Beginnings Program, a parenting-after-divorce program for divorced parents that has been evaluated in two randomized controlled trials. The chapter primarily focuses on the “nuts-and-bolts” of the program, although we also briefly discuss the research that guided the design of the program and the findings about its short-term and long-term effects. First, we briefly describe the theoretical framework and research findings on which the program was based. Next, we provide a general overview of the program, followed by a description of each session. Then, we discuss the results of two randomized controlled trials of the program, one of which included a 6-year follow-up assessment. A case illustration is then presented. We end the chapter with a discussion of some general guidelines for group leaders.

Objective: This 15-year follow-up assessed the effects of a preventive intervention for divorced families, the New Beginnings Program (NBP), versus a literature control condition (LC). Method: Mothers and their 9- to 12-year-olds (N = 240 families) participated in the trial. Young adults (YAs) reported on their mental health and substance-related disorders, mental health and substance use problems, and substance use. Mothers reported on YA’s mental health and substance use problems. Disorders were assessed over the past 9 years (since previous follow-up) and 15 years (since program entry). Alcohol and marijuana use, other substance use and polydrug use, and mental health problems and substance use problems were assessed over the past month, past year, and past 6 months, respectively. Results: YAs in NBP had a lower incidence of internalizing disorders in the past 9 years (7.55% vs. 24.4%; odds ratio [OR] = .26) and 15 years (15.52% vs. 34.62%; OR = .34) and had a slower rate of onset of internalizing symptoms associated with disorder in the past 9 years (hazard ratio [HR] = .28) and 15 years (HR = .46). NBP males had a lower number of substance-related disorders in the past 9 years (d = 0.40), less polydrug (d = 0.55) and other drug use (d = 0.61) in the past year, and fewer substance use problems (d = 0.50) in the past 6 months than LC males. NBP females used more alcohol in the past month (d = 0.44) than LC females. Conclusions: NBP reduced the incidence of internalizing disorders for females and males and substance-related disorders and substance use for male.

This cost-benefit analysis compared the costs of implementing the New Beginnings Program. This cost-benefit analysis compared the costs of implementing the New Beginnings Program (NBP), a preventive intervention for divorced families to monetary benefits saved in mental healthcare service use and criminal justice system costs. NBP was delivered when the offspring were 9– 12 years old. Benefits were assessed 15 years later when the offspring were young adults (ages 24–27). This study estimated the costs of delivering two versions of NBP, a single- component parenting-after-divorce program (Mother Program, MP) and a two-component parenting-after-divorce and child-coping program (Mother-Plus-Child Program, MPCP), to costs of a literature control (LC). Long-term monetary benefits were determined from actual expenditures from past-year mental healthcare service use for mothers and their young adult (YA) offspring and criminal justice system involvement for YAs. Data were gathered from 202 YAs and 194 mothers (75.4 % of families randomly assigned to condition). The benefits, as assessed in the 15th year after program completion, were $1630/family (discounted benefits $1077/family). These 1-year benefits, based on conservative assumptions, more than paid for the cost of MP and covered the majority of the cost of MPCP. Because the effects of MP versus MPCP on mental health and substance use problems have not been significantly different at short term or long-term follow-up assessments, program managers would likely choose the lower-cost option. Given that this evaluation only calculated economic benefit at year 15 and not the previous 14 (nor future years), these findings suggest that, from a societal perspective, NBP more than pays for itself in future benefits.

Effects of quality of parenting and interparental conflict

This study presents a reanalysis of data from an effective preventive intervention for children from divorced families (S. A. Wolchik et al., 2000) to test mediation of program effects. The study involved 157 children, age 9–12 years, who were randomly assigned to a parenting program or a literature control condition. Program effects to reduce posttest internalizing problems were mediated through improvement in mother– child relationship quality. Program effects to reduce externalizing problems at posttest and 6 months were mediated through improvement in posttest parental methods of discipline and mother–child relationship quality. The study also describes a new methodology to test mediation of Program Baseline Status interactions. Analyses demonstrate mediation effects primarily for children who began the program with poorer scores on discipline, mother– child relationship quality, and externalizing problems.

This paper studied the relations of children’s mental health problems to the warmth of their relationship with their non-custodial father and custodial mother and the level of conflict between the parents. Using a sample of 182 divorcing families, multiple regression was used to test the independent effect of father warmth, mother warmth and interparental conflict. Results indicated that father warmth and mother warmth were both independently related to lower child externalizing problems. However, the relations between mother and child warmth and child internalizing problems were different as a function of interparental conflict and level of warmth with the other parent. Implications for court practices and policies are discussed.

The current study examined the associations between child mental health problems and the quality of maternal and paternal parenting, and how these associations were moderated by three contextual factors: quality of parenting by the other parent, interparental conflict, and the number of overnights parents had with the child. Data for the current study came from a sample of divorcing families who are in high legal conflict over developing or maintaining a parenting plan following divorce. Analyses revealed that the associations between child mental health problems and positive maternal and paternal parenting were moderated by the quality of parenting provided by the other parent and by the number of overnights children spent with parents, but not by the level of interparental conflict. When parenting by the other parent and number of overnights were considered together in the same model, only number of overnights moderated the relations between parenting and child-behavior problems. The results support the proposition that the well-being of children in high-conflict divorcing families is better when they spend adequate time with at least one parent who provides high-quality parenting.

Despite widespread acknowledgement that “frequent, continuing, and meaningful” (Pruett & DiFonzo, 2014) time with both parents is beneficial for children from divorced or separated families, and that interparental conflict (IPC) is associated with increased child mental health problems, the joint effects of parenting time (PT), parenting quality (PQ), and IPC on children’s mental health problems are less clear. The current study integrates two theoretical models in multiple mediator analyses to test indirect effects of mothers’ and fathers’ parenting quality (PQ) and interparental conflict (IPC) to explain the association between PT and children’s mental health problems within the same model. Participants were children aged 9–18 years (N=141) who had one or both parents participate in a randomized comparative effectiveness trial of a court-based prevention program for high-conflict divorcing or separating families. Data were collected at pre- test and 9-month follow-up. Analyses revealed an indirect effect in which fathers’ PQ mediated the association between PT and child internalizing problems both concurrently and nine months later. There were no significant indirect effects involving IPC. Analyses indicated a significant quadratic relation between PT and fathers’ PQ, suggesting that although more PT is associated with better father-child relationships, there is a point beyond which more time is not related to a better relationship. We discuss the study findings, research limitations, and implications for public policy

Overview of Parent Education in Courts

This article reviews the development and current status of the parent education movement in the family courts. Parent education programs are now being implemented in courts throughout the United States and have a high level of public acceptance; however, a stronger research methodology to evaluate the effects and continued work to align the goals with the content and teaching strategies of these programs are needed. A new conceptual framework is proposed for parent education, which views divorce as a public health problem for children as well as a legal issue. The three-level framework uses concepts from public health to align the goals, content, and format of parent education programs and to enable rigorous evaluations of the outcomes achieved by these programs.

Key Points for the Family Court Community

  • Educational programs for separated and divorcing parents are widely disseminated,
    popular, and diverse in their structure, goals, and teaching strategies.
  • To enhance the value of parent education programs, a more cohesive approach to
    program development and rigorous evaluation is needed to work toward dissemination of
    evidence-based programs.
  •  A model is proposed to integrate concepts from public health into court-affiliated parent
    education programs.

This chapter presents a comprehensive model of parent education programs in the family court. The model includes consideration of which parents are offered or mandated to these programs; the potential benefits of these program to families, other FDR services and the judicial process; the resources required of the court to offer these programs and the resources required of parents to participate. It is proposed that courts base their evaluations of parent education programs on evidence from well-controlled studies that show the programs are accomplishing goals of importance to the court. The chapter describes basic criteria for evaluating the evidence of program effectiveness and reviews evidence from 29 evaluations of parent education programs to reduce interparental conflict, reduce legal conflict, improve child well-being and strengthen mother-child and father-child relationships following divorce or separation.