Program helps parents reconstruct their family after divorce

Two ASU research professors have designed a program to help reconstruct divorced families. Irwin Sandler and Sharlene Wolchik, professors at the psychology department's Prevention Research Center, received a $6.4 million grant from the National Institute of Health in 2011 to test their experimental New Beginnings Program as a community-based service.

The program, which covers how to "maintain high-quality relationships with children during the transition period," is free to couples who have separated or divorced within the last two years and have children between the ages of 3 and 18, Sandler said. Sandler said, "How do you provide structure, routines and discipline in a condition in which everyone is stressed? How can parents restructure in a way that is helpful for everyone? Quality parenting by both parents is important, and that is what we are teaching."

Parents going through a divorce are required by the state to attend a mandatory four-hour parent information class. Sandler, Wolchik and their team of researchers partnered with family courts throughout Arizona to offer the New Beginnings Program to couples going through the divorce process. The program is offered in Maricopa, Pima, Coconino and Yuma counties. They plan on expanding the program to Yavapai County as well.

Sandler said they wanted to see what kind of results they could get by offering the program in a variety of counties ranging from big cities to small rural areas. Mothers and fathers are separated by gender into groups consisting of eight to 10 participants. Parents enrolled in the program are randomly placed in either a two-week or 10-week program.

"We are going to be able to compare both of the programs to our other research and see which is more effective," Sandler said.

After completing the course, parents must agree to participate in three phone interviews and evaluate the program.

Emily Winslow, an assistant research professor and a team member, said she focuses on finding ways to engage parents and get them involved and enrolled in programs like New Beginnings.

"Parents are very busy, and these programs require a lot of time," she said. "We have to figure out ways to show that the programs are effective and worth their time."

Winslow said the team's invitational DVD, played at the mandatory four-hour parent information class, effectively reaches out to parents.

The team's partnership with family courts has given it the chance to show parents the benefits of participating in New Beginnings, Winslow said. It also gives parents the chance to receive more information and sign up for the program.

Psychology senior Shannon Jewell works as a research assistant, helping keep track of the participants and data.

Jewell plans to attend graduate school and study health behaviors, and she said working on projects like this one is a great opportunity.

"It’s really great to be involved in the project and get to talk to parents and see the positive results," she said. "This has been running for so long, and you can still see results years later. It is more rewarding than other jobs and a great experience."


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