The region-wide implementation of a relationship education program for first time parents delivered in the maternal and child health care setting: evaluating reach and effectiveness

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Ann Taket
Beth R Crisp


Maternal and child health, nurses, midwives, gender equity, relationship education , prevention of intimate partner violence, rurality


Aims: To present the results of a region-wide evaluation of Baby Makes 3, a brief relationship education program for first time parents implemented in the maternal and child health setting. Background: The program is designed to utilise the ‘teachable moment’ provided by the birth of the first child, and strengthen the couple relationship, promoting gender equity and preventing intimate partner violence. The literature contains only a few similar examples, none of which have been implemented on a region-wide scale in a rural context. Participants: First time parents in the Great South Coast Region of Victoria, irrespective of whether they had participated in Baby Makes 3, group facilitators, and other stakeholders involved in the program across the region including maternal and child health nurses. Methods: Interviews were conducted with parents, group facilitators and other stakeholders. Routinely collected surveys completed by parents and group facilitators were also analysed. Data was collected throughout the period April 2013 to August 2015. Findings: Fewer than one-third of new parents in the region participated in Baby Makes 3. Parents, group facilitators and other stakeholders all made suggestions as to how program reach could be improved. These included the need to take account of key components of rural life including farm work and not clashing with sporting activities. Nevertheless, for those who participated, the program was judged highly effective according to both parents and staff. Additionally, parents valued the social interaction generated by the program as an outcome in itself, connected to the value of the program in normalising the challenges they were facing as new parents. Minimal negative effects were identified. Discussion: Transition to parenthood is a time when many parents are open to exploring gender roles and expectations within their relationships, especially in a context in which the challenges of parenting are normalised. However, the implementation of such a program which has been designed in an urban context may require modifications when delivered in a rural area. Conclusion: Parenting programs are just as necessary in rural as in urban contexts. Furthermore, modifying the program to commence prior to the birth of a child further work may improve program reach.
What is already known about this topic?

  • The birth of the first child, has been found in urban settings, to be a time when parents are open to brief interventions which lead to improved awareness, communication skills, attitudes and behaviours supportive of gender equity and a strengthened couple relationship.

What this paper adds:

  • Programs which promote gender equity and respectful relationships are beneficial to new parents in rural areas, but effective implementation requires taking into account the characteristics of local communities.

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