Key DSPI research underpins new WHO guidelines on parenting interventions to prevent child maltreatment

dspi child and family welfare

A team of DSPI researchers played a major role in the development of the new World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on parenting interventions which aim to help prevent child maltreatment and enhance parent-child relationships.  

Child maltreatment is a global public health problem and occurs most frequently at the hands of parents and caregivers. The new WHO guidelines provide evidence-based recommendations on parenting interventions for parents and caregivers of children aged 0-17 years that are designed to reduce child maltreatment, enhance the parent-child relationship, and prevent poor parent mental health and child emotional and behavioural problems.

The DSPI team, led by Professor Frances Gardner and DPhil Sophia Backhaus, were instrumental in both conducting the systematic reviews of the global evidence, and working with the WHO team to translate these into guideline recommendations for policy makers. This project was supported by researchers from DSPI and the Global Parenting Initiative (GPI),  a collaboration of universities, foundations and partners providing access to free, evidence-based, playful parenting support to parents to equip them to help their children realise their learning potential and to prevent child sexual abuse, exploitation, and family violence.

Frances Gardner, Professor of Child and Family Psychology, DSPI, said: 'The new guidelines will influence parenting policy all over the world, leading to benefits for children and families. It has been exciting to see how our research directly impacted the development of specific recommendations presented in the guidelines. They each have the potential not only to prevent violence by parents but also improve positive parenting, parent’s mental health and children’s behaviour problems.'

Sophia Backhaus, DPhil student, DSPI, said: 'Millions of children experience violence every day. The new WHO Guidelines on parenting interventions can help to ensure that parents of children at all ages and stages of development, across the globe, are able to provide safe, nurturing care without recourse to violence.'

Professor Frances Gardner led a team of researchers to conduct the systematic reviews, Sophia Backhaus wrote the WHO guidelines document, while Professor Gardner, Professor Lucie Cluver and Sophia Backhaus were key members of the Guideline Development Group. Other DSPI contributors included Dr Jamie Lachman, Professor Jane Barlow, and DPhil students Roselinde Janowski, Mackenzie Martin and Moa Schafer, and former DSPI students Dr Amalee McCoy, Prof GJ Melendez-Torres, Dr Yulia Shenderovich and Wendy Knerr. In the acknowledgements for the report, the WHO said: "WHO gratefully appreciates the overall organisation and management of the evidence syntheses and preparation of the Evidence-to-Decision tables and GRADE rating tables that informed the guideline, undertaken by Frances Gardner and Sophia Backhaus, University of Oxford."

This is the first WHO guideline specifically on parent and caregiver support interventions intended to reduce child maltreatment and enhance parent-child relationships. It makes five recommendations for parenting interventions, along with proposed implementation plans and the underlying evidence-base for each recommendation.

Read the full guidelines.