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USC Social Work commits to virtual parent education

Using interactive technology, the program will service hard-to-reach families in underserved communities, offering options to parents from all walks of life

Family educational support will soon go mobile thanks to a groundbreaking Commitment to Action announced at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America.

Just as technology has transformed most aspects of American life, it will soon have the potential to transform the health and literacy of children by engaging and mentoring parents and caregivers in the first home visit program to be delivered in a live format entirely online.

Parents as Teachers, one of the nation’s most respected family support organizations impacting nearly 250,000 families annually in all 50 states, and the USC School of Social Work unveiled a multiyear CGI Commitment to Action to make “virtual parent education” a reality.

By using interactive, Web-based telehealth technology, the program will expand services to high-need, hard-to-reach families in underserved communities and provide options to parents from all walks of life.

“The early years of a child’s life are critical to their future success,” said Scott Hippert, president and CEO of Parents as Teachers. “Creating virtual parenting support programs will help generate long-term economic growth by improving health, education and workforce outcomes while preventing costly interventions later in life.”

Services will be provided through USC Telehealth, a virtual counseling and therapy clinic, using the evidence-based Parents as Teachers model via live, Web-based video sessions. Following an initial development and demonstration phase, the program will roll out in California and Missouri in preparation for a nationwide scale-up.

The partnership offers an unprecedented opportunity to chip away at barriers to universal access to parenting information and early childhood education.

Dorian Traube

“The partnership offers an unprecedented opportunity to chip away at barriers to universal access to parenting information and early childhood education,” said Dorian Traube, lead investigator and associate professor at the USC School of Social Work. “We are utilizing the latest in secure, user-friendly technology to provide more families with critical early intervention services at a fraction of the typical cost for home visitation.”

Parenting practices

The Parents as Teachers model works with parents of children from prenatal through 5 years to improve parenting practices and parent knowledge of child development, provide early detection of developmental delays and health issues, prevent child abuse and neglect, and improve children’s school readiness. To date, Parents as Teachers has been offered exclusively to families through in-person home visits by trained parent educators.

USC Telehealth has a history and a mission to expand high-quality, evidence-based telemental health services to underserved and diverse populations across California, both urban and rural, that include youth, adults, couples, families, seniors and veterans. Special programs include at-risk youth, foster youth/families, special needs families, older adults and much more.

USC Telehealth will provide its virtual delivery platform, as well as a cadre of professional therapists and social workers, to monitor and evaluate the virtual programs to ensure they are as effective as receiving on-the-ground Parent as Teachers parenting support through personal visits.

The three-year initiative begins this fall with the training of USC Telehealth practitioners in the Parents as Teachers foundational curriculum and model, followed by a pilot test of 20 families in Southern California scheduled for next year. Implementation of the larger scale, yearlong trial involving families in seven California and Missouri cities will begin in 2017. That trial will include quarterly reports detailing parenting and child development outcomes.

“We are honored to announce this commitment at CGI America, a working meeting that promotes collaboration and actionable ideas to develop solutions for economic growth, long-term competitiveness and social mobility in the United States,” Hippert said. “We look forward to working with USC to open doors to provide support and service to more families by adapting our model for use with interactive technology.”

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