DEVELOP is the process of creating a parenting education program before and after actual program delivery. The process includes all elements of the program development process for adult education in community-based settings, from need assessments through evaluation. Specific aspects of developing teaching strategies and delivering parenting education are discussed in the EDUCATE section, pages 36-42.

Critical DEVELOP Practices

To DEVELOP, a parenting educator will

  • Conduct community needs assessments (e.g., asset mapping) to identify educational needs, audiences, existing community and family strengths, and other available resources.
  • Involve representatives from target audiences and collaborating organizations in the development of parenting education programs.
  • Determine goals and objectives for the program along with outcomes that can be measured.
  • Select delivery methods based on family needs, strengths, and program resources.
  • Evaluate the parenting education processes and impacts using appropriate methods.
  • Review parenting evaluation results and share them with colleagues, collaborators, and stakeholders in order to plan future programs.

Examples of Professional Objectives for DEVELOP

The following professional behaviors serve as examples of more specific objectives based on the critical practices for DEVELOP:

The parenting educator should be able to

  • Conduct and report on an assessment of community strengths and needs for parenting education.
  • Specify the goals of a parenting education program and how change will be measured.
  • Match an appropriate, research-based parenting education model to the needs identified by the community .
  • Create a marketing plan that will attract a targeted audience of parents.
  • Identify factors that might contribute to participant attrition and address them.
  • Review, select, create, or tailor teaching resources that support the goals of the parenting education program.
  • Develop the processes and tools that will be used to measure the success of the parenting education experience.
  • Report programming impacts in ways that are both understandable and meaningful to stakeholders and collaborators.
  • Document how a program’s results may be replicated and expanded to additional groups.

What We Know About DEVELOP

Information about the skills needed to design, develop, implement, and evaluate successful programs of parenting education comes from research literature on community-based adult education, facilitation of support groups, program development and evaluation, and parent empowerment.

The theoretical and research base of any parenting education program must be specified and consistently applied in order for the design, implementation, and evaluation of the intervention to be effective. Too many parenting education efforts rely on the organizer’s common sense, good intentions, and available resources (Hughes, 1994). At the same time, few packaged curricula provide all of the resources necessary for addressing the specific needs and interests of a particular group without the facilitator supplementing that curriculum with other teaching tools (Brown, 1998). Done well, this customization is one mark of a professional parenting educator. Done poorly, such blending of resources and philosophies can confuse the participants and complicate the evaluation process (Medway, 1989). Effective parenting education programs are those that (a) include flexible structures and sensitive staff members; (b) respond to participant needs; and (c) use a coherent, research-based training design (Cataldo, 1987).

Effective parenting education follows a sequential program development process, including planning, design, implementation, evaluation, and accountability. The development process, especially as it pertains to community-based adult education, has been thoroughly conceived and tested (Boone, 1985; Jacobs, 1988; Rockwell & Bennett, 2000).

This body of literature emphasizes the interaction of needs assessments, targeted outcomes, program design and implementation, progress-tracking, and evaluation designed to serve specific needs.

Traditional approaches to needs assessment may be complemented by contemporary approaches that consider the assets as well as the challenges of target audiences (O’Looney, 1996; Nieto, Schaffner, & Henderson, 1997).

When used conscientiously, the program development process as applied to parenting education can result in positive outcomes for families and positive accountability data for planners.

Many scholars recommend a comprehensive process that includes specifying target-audience needs and assets, considering facilitator resources, conducting interventions, considering delivery formats, and designing appropriate evaluation and reporting methods (Pines, 1991; DeBord, 1998; Brown, 1998; Matthews & Hudson, 2001). Not only is actual program delivery important, but increasingly, providers of community-based education are being held accountable for expected program outcomes.

Marketing parenting education, recruiting participants, and encouraging their continued involvement have been shown to be effective. Many parenting education efforts have limited success because the importance of targeted program promotions and inducements to continue involvement was not considered. While some parenting education efforts, such as those aimed at abusive/neglectful parents, mandate parent participation under threat of legal consequence, most programs rely on voluntary participation. Curran (1989) discusses the advantages of promoting parenting education to target groups using strength-based messages that appeal to common interests and practical needs.

Parenting education is best evaluated by using a combination of quantitative and qualitative techniques applied to improve both the process and outcome of the effort. Medway (1989) and others reinforce the fact that the design of program evaluation is integral to the entire planning process, not a step added at the conclusion. The evaluation plan must be consistent with the scope, delivery methods, content, and intensity of the program. Variations in these conditions, or the failure to specify them, have made it difficult to compare the efficacy and efficiency of many parenting education programs, highlighting family dysfunction. Cataldo (1987), Smith and Wells (1997), and others discuss specific techniques of parent recruitment, such as personal contact, newsletters, posted announcements, and the use of existing groups. The related problems of attrition in multi-session programs may be minimized by including incentives, child care, and transportation; by sending meeting reminders; and by establishing personal relationships with participants (Hughes, 1994).

Perhaps the most comprehensive and user-friendly discussion of the process of evaluation in community-based parenting education was provided by the Cooperative Extension System’s former National Network for Family Resiliency (DeBord, Stivers, Fetsch, Goddard, & Ray, 1997). This report leads the reader through the important considerations and steps of the evaluation process at whatever level of depth and specificity may be required. The study emphasizes the importance of designing the evaluation plan based on the proposed use of the evaluation: for example, to inform stakeholders, improve program delivery, and assess participant change, or a combination of these.

Year published or updated
References & Resources

Boone, E. (1985). Developing programs in adult education. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Brown, J.L. & Kiernan, N.E. (1998). A model for integrating program development and evaluation. Journal of Extension, 36. Retrieved from

Brown, M. (1998). Recommended practices: Parent education and support. Retrieved from

Carter, N. & Kahn, L. (1996). See how we grow: A report on the status of parenting education in the U.S. Philadelphia: Pew Charitable Trusts.

Cataldo, C. Z. (1987). Parent education for early childhood: Child-rearing concepts and program content for the student and practicing professional. New York: Teachers College Press

Curran, D. (1989). Working with parents. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.

DeBord, K. (1998). Planning, conducting, and evaluating parenting education programs. Retrieved from education/planning and conducting.htm

DeBord, K., Stivers, W., Fetsch, R., Goddard, W., & Ray, M. (1997). Evaluation of parenting education programs: A parenting evaluation decision framework. Retrieved from:

Hughes, R. (1994). A framework for developing family life education programs. Family Relations, 43, 74-80.

Jacobs, F.H. (1988). A five-tiered approach to evaluation: Context and implementation. In H.B. Weiss & F.H. Jacobs (eds.), Evaluating family programs (pp. 37-68). New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

Matthews, J. & Hudson, A. (2001). Guidelines for evaluating parent training programs. Family Relations, 50, 77-86.

Medway, F.J. (1989). Measuring the effectiveness of parent education. In M.J. Fine (ed.), The second handbook on parent education: Contemporary perspectives (pp. 237-255). New York: Academic Press.

Nieto, R.D., Schaffner, D., & Henderson, J. L. (1997). Examining community needs through a capacity assessment. Journal of Extension, 35.

O’Looney, J. (1996). Redesigning the work of human services. Westport, CT: Quorum.

Pines, D. (1991). Implementing a parenting program in your community. In Parent training is prevention: Preventing alcohol and other drug problems among youth in the family (DHHS Publication No. (ADM) 91-1715, pp. 135-142). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Rockwell, K., & Bennett, C. (2000). Targeting outcomes of programs (TOPS). Retrieved from

Smith, L. M., & Wells, W. M. (1997). Urban parent education: Dilemmas and resolutions. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Author(s), Presenter(s)
DeBord, K., Bower, D., Goddard, W. H., Kirby, J., Kobbe, A. M., Myers-Walls, J. A., Mulroy, M., and Ozretich, R. A.