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Integrating parenting programmes and cash transfers is breaking new ground in the Philippines’ fight against child maltreatment

A new pilot of evidence-based parenting programmes is underway

Parenting support has a long tradition in the Philippines thanks to the socio-cultural value placed on children and families. Now, a new pilot is putting evidence-based programming front and centre of efforts to eliminate violence against children. 

According to the National Baseline Survey on Violence Against Children, published in 2016, around 80% of boys and girls in the Philippines experience violence during childhood. Three in five children are physically and psychologically abused or bullied, and almost one in five are sexually violated. Much of this violence takes place in one location: the home. Social and cultural acceptance of corporal punishment is widespread, and a growing body of evidence suggests a high likelihood that these children may also use corporal punishment with their future children.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has led policy efforts and provisions to support families since the 1980s, when it first established the Parent Effectiveness Seminar as a parent education intervention. The agency has further expanded this intervention to address fathers, adolescents, and street children through the Family Development Sessions (FDS). These parenting sessions are integrated with other services offered by the DSWD, namely its Conditional Cash Transfer programme, which reaches 4.4 million families. In order to receive their monthly payment, families must attend the course of parenting classes. 

“Family Development Sessions are the flagship programme of DSWD, benefitting more than 12 million children. Our goal is that FDS will not merely be an exercise to fulfil the conditionality of cash transfers, but can be used as a tool and instrument to reach vulnerable children and end violence against children,” said DSWD Secretary (OIC) Emmanuel Leyco.

Despite a recent push for comprehensive evaluation of the parenting programs currently in use, most have not been rigorously assessed. “The problem was that the programmes used were not evidence-based. There was no strong proof that they actually reduced child maltreatment,” noted Dr. Bernadette Madrid, Executive Director of the Philippines Child Protection Network.

In an effort to use the best available science, a new programme locally named “Masayang Pamilya” (Happy Family) or MaPa is in pilot thanks to the support of UNICEF and Ateneo de Manila University. Adapted from the Parenting for Lifelong Health programme that recorded a 48% drop in physical violence by caregivers in rural South Africa, MaPa classes comprise low-cost, evidence-based activities designed for parents in the developing world.

In MaPa, trained instructors deliver each lesson to groups of 15-20 parents. Role plays, reflection on challenges at home and home assignments feature in each session. The importance of praise and positive parenting are central. 

Some important adaptations had to be made to the South African version of the programme to ensure that MaPa was acceptable and relevant to Filipino families.

“Following a qualitative community study and workshops with local experts and stakeholders, we modified programme materials to incorporate characters and scenarios that reflected family and community life in the Philippines,” explained Dr Liane Peña Alampay, the principal investigator of the MaPa pilot study. “We also reframed facilitator scripts to explain key parenting concepts in ways that are consistent with Filipino family values.” 

“Evidence-based parenting programs are intensive: they aren’t just lectures,” argued Madrid. “They are participatory, they include role-play, they take at least half a day to deliver and you need highly trained people to deliver them – not just people who have read a manual. It’s a real investment.” The UBS Optimus Foundation is funding the pilot, which is currently delivered by the Ambulatory Pediatric Association, a network of Filipino pediatricians. 

Data from the pilot is still pending, but MaPa’s future looks bright: in early 2018, DSWD agreed to expand the implementation of PLH Philippines in four regions and develop parenting modules for adolescents and indigenous peoples.

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