nursing schoolParents help shape a child’s learning and emotional wellbeing. That knowledge led Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing’s Deborah Gross, to craft and evaluate programs to build parenting skills and reduce behavioral issues for children.

Gross, DNSc, RN, FAAN, is a driving force behind the Chicago Parent Program, a best practice in prevention that recently was added to the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The Chicago Parent Program engages parents of preschool children in directed group discussion over 12 weekly sessions. And it does so by seeking out and then building on the values and beliefs of the urban, minority communities it was designed to serve." It was important to have people on the advisory board who would say 'we don’t think that’s true'—whether it was about spanking, praise or reward programs, practices commonly taught in parenting programs that they really had issues with," Gross tells the American Journal of Nursing, which profiles the JHUSON researcher as an American Academy of Nursing “edge runner” in its March 2013 edition. “That way, we could identify the most useful parenting strategies and frame them in ways that were more relevant to their lives.”

Working through Head Start and other pre-kindergarten organizations for more than a decade, the program brings parents together to explore concepts in child-rearing, such as responsiveness, consistency, and creating a loving environment that promotes growth. Through these explorations, parents gain a window into new, often better, ways to set limits for their children that retain respect and preserve everyone’s sense of integrity. They learn how to help children become self-reliant, strong, and respected by peers without resorting to aggression or violence. Critically, parents are guided to understand a child’s abilities and match parenting strategies to those strengths. Gross says, “Our program creates a partnership with parents and helps establish a parent-school partnership, too. Through the program, parents clarify both their own values and goals for their children. They learn strategies to help reach those goals, using a so-called ‘parenting bag of tricks.’ For example, after helping parents identify behaviors they value in their children, we enable them to tailor parenting strategies to reinforce those behaviors.”

Gross continues to refine and enhance the program, to bring it to many more communities nationwide in new and ever more accessible ways. She’s evaluating how the program stacks up in outcomes and costs against other parenting skills programs and, with a colleague, is working on an electronic, self-guided version that could be given to parents by a health care provider or school counselor. As a mental health nurse, Gross is most excited about placing in the hands of parents tools they can use to make home and family life an integral part of overcoming a child’s serious behavioral problems.

Gross says, “It’s not just about parents helping other parents in a protected and supportive environment; it’s also about parents learning that neither they nor their child is alone in facing the challenges ahead.”

Under an agreement between Rush University Medical Center and Dr. Deborah Gross, Dr. Gross is entitled to revenue from sales of the Chicago Parent Program described in this article. This arrangement has been reviewed and approved by the Johns Hopkins University in accordance with its conflict of interest policies.