#primary #intervention #program
Rationale for the program
The Exploring Together Program is a short-term, multi-group, early intervention program for children at risk of developing serious emotional and behavioural problems, their parents and teachers. It particularly targets primary school-aged children between 6 and 14 years of age. Exploring Together focuses on developing children’s social skills and reducing their problematic behaviour (especially if antisocial), enhancing parenting practices and strengthening family units. The Program comprises separate concurrent groups for the children and one of their parents, followed by a combined parent-child interaction group, plus meetings for partners or support persons, and meetings for teachers. It is a multifaceted program which aims to change the children’s behaviour, enhance their self-esteem and peer relationships, address parenting issues and parents’ own difficulties, and improve parent-child and teacher-child interactions. Exploring Together is conducted in clinics, community health and welfare agencies and in schools. It has proven to be very successful.
Families and students who may be helped
The program is for families with children aged 6-14 years who have emotional and behavioural problems. These include:
- social withdrawal
- sibling rivalry
- problematic peer relationships
- difficult parent-child relationships
One parent must be willing to attend a ten week program at the same time as the child.
The program for children and their families aims to
- enhance self-esteem and decrease problematic behaviour
- enhance interpersonal and social skills
- provide training in problem solving and behaviour management
- improve communication and understanding between family members
- help families to use their own resources more effectively so that relationships between family members can improve
1. Children’s group
This group focuses on teaching the children:
- anger management
- pro-social skills
- perspective taking
- conversation skills
- affect recognition
- assertion skills
- decision making
- social perception
The aim of the group is to reduce children’s aggressive and/or withdrawn behaviours whilst improving peer interactions. This is done through group activities such as games, stories and role play.
2. Parents’ group
Through discussion this group aims to:
- develop parents’ understanding of factors underlying their children’s behaviour
- challenge their irrational beliefs about their children’s behaviour and about parenting
- teach behaviour management principles and techniques and put these into practice
- deal with parenting issues and relationship issues
- confront unhelpful or distorted perceptions of their children and themselves
- assist parents to get more in touch withtheir feelings
- deal with parents’ isolation, depression, lack of assertiveness and poor self-esteem
- deal with curent family issues and, if necessary, those from the families of origin
- recognise parents’ strengths and foster use of their own resources
3. Combined group
This group provides a setting in which:
- relationship and parent-child interaction issues can be addressed as they arise
- positive parent-child interaction can be encouraged and enhanced
- a cooperative parent-child relationship can be promoted
- problem solving and conflict resolution skills can be taught and practised
- parent and child can learn to hear and respect each other’s views and needs
- direct and clear communication can be taught and practised
- parent and child can learn to play and have fun together
4. Parent evenings
These are attended by both mothers and fathers or the parent attending the group and a support person. The focus is on adults working together and supporting each other in disciplining and nurturing their child.
5. Teacher meetings
The aim of these meetings is to promote a consistent approach in the management of the child across the different systems in the child’s life. The meetings also provide the opportunity for two-way feedback between teachers and group leaders.
Structure and content of the ‘Exploring Together’ program
The Exploring Together program involves 6-8 families participating in 10 consecutive weeks of group work, plus pre-group and post-group family interviews for assessment, evaluation and feedback. Group work consists of separate groups for children and parents, followed by a combined parent-child group. Meetings with the partners of the parent attending the group take place twice during the 10 week program. Leaders also meet with the children’s teachers on two occasions during this period. Four leaders are required to run each program (two for the children’s group and two for the parents’ group). At least two of these leaders must have attended Exploring Together Training. The time commitment for each leader is at least 3 hours per week. This includes preparation time, group time, post-group debriefing and planning.
Children’s group – 2 leaders / 1 hour
Parents’ group – 2 leaders / 1 hour
Combined group – 4 leaders / 45 minutes
(pre group) Initial assessment interviews
Week 1 – First meeting
Weeks 2 – 5 – meeting
Weeks 6-10 – meetings
(post group) Feedback interviews
What does exploring together achieve?
The Exploring Together Program has been conducted in community settings, clinics and schools with considerable success. A comprehensive evaluation of the program has been undertaken by La Trobe University. After the children and their parents participated in the 10 week Exploring Together Program, 74% of the children were rated by both parents and teachers as having decreased their aggressive behaviour, while 79% of the children showed an improvement in their attention. Sixty-seven percent of the children showed a decrease in their anxious-depressed behaviour, 64% improved their social skills and 61% of children decreased their withdrawn behaviour. Many of the families involved came from disadvantaged groups in the community who would not normally access this type of assistance. The Exploring Together Program has won three National Awards in recognition of its achievements:
- An Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Services Achievement Award – for `excellence and innovation’.
- An Australian Violence Prevention Award(Commendation), awarded by Australian Heads of Government.
- The Robin Winkler Award for excellence in a Community Psychology Project awarded by the Australian Psychological Society to Dr Lyn Littlefield.
Training for professionals is available on request for this program.