Wednesday, February 10, 2010


DCP and Mentor Training: The Montana Extension Experience

by Kirk Astroth

For more than a millennium, parents have been raising children following customs, mores, and traditions unique to their particular culture. During the Enlightenment, Rousseau's classic Emile (1883) raised the radical notion that there might be better ways to raise children than by relying on traditions or customs alone. This idea has become more pervasive in the last 100 years as psychology has grown and matured.

Over the past couple of decades, research has increasingly focused on how children are raised and the influence of various parenting styles and techniques on subsequent behavior. In the parent education movement, there have been many proponents who have developed programs, courses, and curricula, few of which have been evaluated for effectiveness. In fact, most commercial parenting education programs have ignored evaluation and have relied instead on anecdotal stories to illustrate behavior change. However, these results have been unreliable and unrepresentative of program participants.

Clearly, parents often play one of the most influential roles in a child's development. However, recent research on risk and protective factors makes it clear that other significant adults in a child's life can also exert a profound influence on a child's growth and development (Werner, 1992). In fact, these "surrogate" parents can provide a key stabilizing factor for a child from a turbulent home environment. Close relationships with neighbors, coaches, mentors, 4-H club leaders, teachers, tutors, or other adults outside the family can often provide the strength and support that might be missing in the home. In addition, relationships with caring adults can provide a protective factor in a youth's life and steer him or her away from self-destructive behaviors such as delinquency, early sexual experimentation, violence, initiation in alcohol and other drug abuse, or other behaviors. Even the Presidents' Summit on America's Future recognized the importance of these surrogate parents by focusing on these relationships as one of the Fundamental Five critical resources all youth need to survive and thrive into adulthood.

After five years of providing intensive parenting education across Montana, the MSU Extension Service decided in 1994 to focus on surrogate parents as the next most important audience in the effort to improve the quality of life in the state's communities. A task force of eight individuals reviewed and evaluated 16 different programs that met a set of standard criteria for inclusion in the review. Most important, of course, was that the program be useful for adults other than parents who impact a child's life. This review selected H. Stephen Glenn's program, Developing Capable People, as the curriculum content for our next programmatic initiative.

The goal of the program is to help adults, who work with children who are not their own, increase positive behaviors when working with youth and minimize negative behaviors. The basis of the program centers on helping adults increase their autonomy-oriented behaviors while decreasing the frequency of control-oriented behaviors.

Since its inception in 1994, the DCP program has been offered across the state by a core of 23 trained county extension agents. The design of the program is such that it is best taught one night a week for nine weeks. County agents can also offer the course for two MSU graduate credits. The program is low-cost (only $25 per person) and agents often find grants or supplemental resources to ensure access to the program by limited resource parents or others.

To date, over 1,000 Montanans have participated in the program in about 30 counties. More than 450 of those have taken the course for credit. Participants have been teachers, parents, school counselors, 4-H volunteer leaders, scout troop leaders, hospital nurses, and even border guards who were looking for a program to enhance their interpersonal skills with the public.

From the very beginning, we planned to carry out both a formative and a summative evaluation of the DCP program. This article reports the results of our summative evaluation which was designed to determine our continued supports and desseminations of the program. Like other commercial products, DCP had no valid or reliable evaluation instrument which measured program impact.

In June, 1994, we hired an evaluation specialist from the MSU survey research center to develop a program-specific evaluation instrument. After many initial versions, we finally field tested a tool with 32 specific behaviors targeted by the program. Eventually, we eliminated three of these behaviors because respondents were confused by the wording. A panel of family life experts reviewed the instrument for content validity and agreed the instrument covered the material the instrument was designed to measure. In addition, we field tested the revised instrument again to further assess its construct validity.

Results from our research were analyzed using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS). Because our sample population was not a true random sample, the results cannot be generalized to the entire population of surrogate parents, but only applied to those who participated in the DCP program.

Our research indicates that the DCP program is effective over time in significantly reducing the frequency of negative behaviors and in increasing the frequency of positive behaviors as adults work with youth. In fact, the total mean scores for all 29 statements showed significant differences from the pre- post- and post-post tests. Moreover, the 21 positive behaviors showed an increased frequency of use over time and the negative behaviors showed a decreased frequency. What is perhaps important to emphasize is that these changes seemed to hold over time-months after the course had ended, participants were still using the DCP concepts and improving the ways they worked with other people.

Montana Extension has found that Developing Capable People is a popular, well-received program that is adaptable for parents, surrogate parents, teachers, counselors, and spouses. The program is effective in helping participants reduce the frequency of negative behaviors and increase the frequency of positive behaviors. We feel that we finally have some valid research results to support our dissemination of this program, and we can feel confident that the program has impact on the participants. We continue to promote this program in the state with 4-H leaders, teachers, camp counselors, parents, and yes, even border guards who want to change ways they relate to others.

1 (800) 222-1494