The evaluation was conducted in the spring of 2013 on the sample of 67 parents who participated in the programme, and 60 parents from the control group who did not participate. The commonest disabilities of the children whose parents participated in the Programme were genetic syndromes, impairment of speech/voice communication, motor impairment, hearing impairment, hyperactivity, impairment of other organs or organ systems, intellectual disability/mental disorder, visual impairment, autistic spectrum disorders, multiple impairments and other disabilities.
On the whole, the changes in parents' beliefs and behaviours after their participation in the programme indicated higher parental morale in terms of their ability to cope with the demands of parenting the child with disability, increased need for personal support, and also lower frequency of practices undesirable for the development of the child, such as yelling and hitting. Since no such changes occurred in the group of parents who did not particiapate i the programme, we concluded that they can be ascribed to the impacts of the Programme.
More on the results can be found in the publication at https://www.unicef.hr/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Parenting-Children-w.disabilities-Eng-Jan-2015.pdf
The questions to which parents sought answers in the Growing Up Together Plus workshops concerned the following issues:
- Dealing with new challenges: How to achieve a balance between caring for a child with disability and normal life? How to prepare a future sibling that their brother or sister yet to be born will be different from both themselves and their peers? How to explain child's disability to the extended family and friends and how to adapt them to the child rather than the other way around?
- Trying to respond the best way possible to the child's need: I would like to hear about the experiences of other parents, especially of those whose children are older than mine. I would like to talk with other parents and learn how they function, and see if I can do more for my child some specific areas od development. Should I or should I not enroll my child in kindergarten? If yes, what type of kindergarten? How to help a sibling accept his brother's disability? How to play more with the child and how to set boundaries? How to make them comply with my instructions?
- Strengthen the feeling of security (mitigate the felling of insecurity) with regard to one's own child-rearing practices: Will I succeed in preparing my child to live on his own? I need a confirmation for my behaviour: what is good in it and what is not. I would like to know whether I am doing everything I can for my child, or is it too little. How to play more with the child and how to set boundaries? How to explain to the child that she simply should not do certain things?
- Empowering and understanding the child: How to boost the child's self-esteem? How to get the utmost out of the child without making it a dramatic experience for him? How to encourage her to explore and learn? How to help him make growing up easier? How to explain to him that he is not like other children?
At the end of the programme, more than half of the parents reported that they found answers to the questions they had posed at the beginning of the programme. Another 43% said that they found partial answers, whereas 3% of the parents did not find the answers the were looking for.
Here are some of the parents' statements upon completion of the Growing Up Together Plus Programme:
- I have become stronger in accepting the situation; I have armed myself with enough strength and energy to deal with the difficult situation.
- Now I look much more positively at the fact that we have a child with disability. Our interaction with the child has become much better.
- I have more understanding now and I no longer feel that I am alone in all of this.
- Emotionally, I am stronger and more stable and I can talk about our situation with more clarity and focus.
- I have fully accepted the truth that my child has certain developmental challenges.
- [While at workshops] I spent some time away from my daily routine and yet my child was in the focus.
- I realized that I am not alone and that there are years of struggle ahead of us.
- Now I go less 'mechanically' through the daily routine with my child; I give her more voice in decision-making and I pay more attention to her needs and desires, despite her inability to verbalize them.
- It is good for the child to know that he is not alone.
- I have learned to listen to my child and hear him, try to understand him better, support and encourage him.
- Now I am a more relaxed, more content and more organized Mom; we now see more of Dad; the whole family is happier and more content.
- I am a bit calmer now, more self-confident. The atmosphere at home is more relaxed.
- I have better understanding of the child development and of how I can contribute to it.
- Through my personal growth I will help my child to free himself from the need 'to be perfect'.
- I have learned to talk about my feelings.
- My wish was to learn more about the ways of motivating my child to practise and grow, but I realized that the solution is in me – I must be more content and then everything will be easier.
- It was all very beneficial; maybe I would single out the part dedicated to parents only.
- I am thankful to the leaders for the relaxedness and expertise with which they motivated us to keep on working on ourselves.
The results of a comprehensive external evaluation conducted in 2016 by an independent team of experts have shown that the programs "Growing up Together" and "Growing up Together Plus" are:
- highly relevant for the needs of parents (including parents of children with disabilities) and professionals
- effective in achieving desirable changes in parental knowledge and skills, as well as in the knowledge and skills of group leaders
- have long-term positive impact on the relations between parents and children, and between parents and parents.
It is recommended to improve their sustainability.
Formative Evaluation of Government of Croatia and UNICEF’s Parenting Support Programmes ‘Growing up Together’ and ‘Growing up Together Plus’
More information on the evaluation of the Growing up Together PLUS programme can be found in a chapter: Pećnik, N. (2019) Evidencing the value of parenting support as a policy and practice orientation: The case of ‘Growing Up Together’ in Croatia. Moran, L. & Canavan, J. (Eds). Realising Children's Rights Through Supporting Parents. UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre. pp 61-81 https://www.bib.irb.hr/1042467