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Keeping children safe in stressful times – Information Centre – Research & Innovation


A free parenting programme based on EU-funded research has won a 2019 Horizon Impact Award for its success in helping families to avoid child abuse in low-and middle-income countries. Now parents everywhere can access online tips to cope with COVID-19 lockdown life.


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The Parenting for Lifelong Health child abuse prevention programme is one of four winners of the 2019 Horizon Impact Awards, which highlight how EU support for research benefits society. The open-access programme, which has reached over 600 000 families in 25 countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe, is based on studies started in the EU’s PACCASA project funded by the European Research Council.

‘A billion children a year are victims of child abuse and most of them are in the developing world,’ says the principal investigator Professor Lucie Cluver of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Abuse harms children’s mental health, education and ability to make good decisions later in life. Yet, before PACCASA, there were no evidence-based freely available programmes tailored to low- and middle-income countries, Cluver explains.

Her response was to develop and test a 14-module programme – Sinovuyo Teen – in townships and villages in South Africa’s poorest province, the Eastern Cape. Moderators guided 1 104 parents, carers and teenagers to develop strategies for coping with stressful situations that could lead to violence.

By the end of the randomised trial, physical abuse in the families had dropped by almost half, and emotional abuse by just over a quarter. Parents used praise more and supervised their children more, and teenagers felt more secure. Families abused drugs and alcohol less, while their mental health, stress levels and even finances had improved.

‘The programme was about supporting families to develop shared skills that allowed them to have the happier relationships they wanted,’ Cluver concludes.

Reaching out

PACCASA developed the course with input from experts at the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and South African and British universities. Two initial small-scale trials helped the project team to fine-tune the concept.

The final trial was as realistic as possible – delivered by community members in local settings with no exclusions of potential participants. ‘This meant that our partners in government and NGOs could have confidence that the programme would work,’ Cluver says.

The programme soon caught on locally. According to Cluver, families, church leaders and school principals were sharing lessons from the modules with their communities before the trial ended.

From there, follow-on ERC-funded projects CAPITA and HEY BABY expanded the PACCASA course to separate programmes for teenagers, young children and toddlers. These are now available on the WHO and UNICEF websites as part of the ‘Parenting for Lifelong Health’ initiative.

‘Those grants have been the core of the evidence that we are using,’ says Cluver. ‘This has meant that we have a parenting programme that has reached hundreds of thousands of parents eight years later.’

COVID-19 tips

Cluver thought that the work was finished until the worldwide wave of lockdowns began to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Working with a team, she quickly condensed the programmes into downloadable tips to deal with lockdown life.
‘I contacted colleagues at WHO, UNICEF, The Global Partnership to End Violence, USAID and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and said we need to do something,’ Cluver says.

In just 72 hours, they produced six simple printouts covering one-on-one time, positive parenting, structure, bad behaviour, managing stress, and talking about COVID-19.

The tips are being shared online by governments and NGOs around the world. Volunteers have translated the tips into 100 languages, with more on the way.

The fast action has had a huge impact. ‘They are being downloaded at an astonishing rate,’ Cluver notes. ‘There have been over a million social media engagements, and the tips are being used by many national governments – they have already reached tens of millions of families globally.’

It is a sign of how invested parents are in their children at a difficult time. ‘Parents are doing an amazing job and should be proud of themselves,’ Cluver concludes.


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