When Bad Headlines Happen to Good Programs

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The headline of the press release from Glasgow announces, “Researchers call for withdrawal of investment in Triple P parenting programme.” For those of you who are unaware, Triple P is one of the most studied parenting programs in the history of parenting programs.  Hundreds of peer-reviewed evaluations of Triple P have been published. The overwhelming conclusion is that Triple P improves child behaviors and parent well-being.

So what happened in Glasgow?

I have read the whole report, not just the press release, and I still do not know.  Moreover, I am not sure the authors of the report know either.

Consider this passage:

“Both the quantitative and qualitative data clearly show that parents who completed interventions were highly satisfied with those interventions, whilst negative comments in the qualitative data referred to difficulties with other parents’ behaviour in the group and with practical issues such as the venue. Analysis of pre- and post-intervention data showed improvements in almost all areas, though this was substantially weaker when non-completers (who were assumed not to have improved) were added into the analysis. Completion rates were frequently low and no other post-intervention data are available for parents who did not participate/complete the intervention.”

By the numbers, the Triple P program appears successful, but the report’s authors are very concerned, and rightly so, with the fact that few parents completed the program in its entirety and that little is known about those who either fail to complete the program or who do not participate at all. While they are confident in their findings, the authors also are worried about other recent studies of Triple P that have failed to show significant impacts.

Is all of this enough to warrant the headline that public spending on Triple P should cease?  Again, I do not know…and neither do the authors.

Here is their recommendation:

“The lack of change in social and emotional functioning among the child population of Glasgow, together with the low completion rates for Triple P interventions, selective benefit for more privileged families and recent published evidence of overall lack of efficacy leads us to recommend that Glasgow should not commit to further investment in Triple P training or materials except within the context of independently conducted randomised trials of specific interventions.”

In other words, the authors cannot recommend funding Triple P moving forward unless more research is funded as well.

How convenient.

Overall, the report comes across as a bad variation of a joke attributed to Groucho Marx and famously retold by Woody Allen. The food at this restaurant may be awful or the portions may be small.  Either way, these researchers will let you buy them another meal.

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