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A way of conducting groups of parents: which work? An overview of practices in France and Italy


Background. During the last decades, initiatives aiming at guiding parents in their educational role appeared. Besides the individual helps brought to families, some other forms of guidance were born, in order to allow the parents to better cope with the various difficulties they can meet in terms of child rearing practices. Various settings are developed in most of the countries of the European Union including Italy and France. They are often established in contexts of inter-institutional partnership and are inspired by innovating models such as day-care centres, supporting services and parenting support programmes, family training and folk universities. In France, counting from the years 2000, the French parenting support programme (entitled REAPP) supported the development of gathering of groups of parents (Sellenet, 2004).

In Italy, too, many actions of parenting support have been developed over the last few years (Cecchi, 2002). These forms of intervention are based on the idea that prevention of difficulties in parent-child relationship requires the promotion of parents' competencies and resources. This is the objective of many groups of parents, which have started out as self-help encounters and now are frequently qualified as groups of "parent empowerment".

Considering the lack of research on groups of parents and the difficulties in gathering data on experiences that are often situated between formal and informal intervention, our research starts from an explorative purpose. It aims at examining models of functioning, cultures, and perspectives of the groups of parents in France and in Italy, focalizing on the point of view of the moderators and the social workers involved in these experiences.

Purpose. The aim of the research is to draw up an overview of the functioning of parental groups in France and in Italy. This is in order to get a better view of their characteristics, for example the way groups work, the aims, the human and financial supports they can get and how to conduct groups of parents. Furthermore, the attention on the moderators' viewpoint facilitates the comprehension of the frames of reference within which the groups of parents work in the two countries and leads to deeply understand their complex situation.

Methods. The research uses qualitative methods. Data have been collected using half-structured interviews with thirty moderators of the groups (fifteen in each country). The interview takes into account the moderators' point of view on working with parents and it focuses on several aspects, such as history and functioning of the group, role of the moderator, main contents, needs and perspectives identified by the moderators.


Key findings. The outcomes highlight that various degrees of social participation of parents are found, pointing out the parents' own resources and the ones of their environment.

Two main forms of groups have been taken into account:

-        groups of parents, without a specific target;

-        groups of parents who share a common problem or activity (for example, divorced fathers).


The analysis of the data gathered through the interviews puts into evidence some specific aspects of the groups of parents:

-        parenthood, and the difficulties parents live, are re-defined in a relational setting and considered as common experiences requiring reciprocal help;

-        the groups build a shared vision on parenthood;

-        the groups deal with both individual and social aspects of parenthood, promoting different levels of participation and members' activation on shared problems.

The paper emphasizes the questioning on the group conducting and on the impact on the valorising of parents as field actors. In this process, the moderators have a key role. The data collected through the interviews provide us descriptions of "what they do" with the groups of parents. These descriptions lead to identify several practices aiming at promoting and facilitating parents' involvement and participation in the activities: in particular, the moderators:

  • propose ideas, plans, actions to the group;
  • stimulate parents' dialogue;
  • help parents to look at their situation from different points of view;
  • make parents feel adequate and capable to face their situation;
  • let the families see their own resources;
  • encourage family's responsibility;
  • are present in situations of need without creating dependency;
  • assume the parents as trustworthy partners;
  • provide emotional support;
  • -        help the group to take up new initiatives;
  • -        promote active participation.

Implications. The research highlights many different ways of working with groups of parents. These activities seem to produce significant practical knowledge, which is often implicit and rarely circulating as a topic for elaboration and discussion.

The activity of parent groups needs to be studied at an international level in order to promote knowledge and exchange of good practices.

Key references

Cecchi, S. (2002). I gruppi di autoaiuto e di empowerment delle famiglie. In Di Nicola, P., (Eds.), Prendersi cura delle famiglie. Roma: Carocci.

Dunst, C. J. & Paget, K. D. (1991). Parent-Professional Partnership and Family Empowment. In M. J. Fine (Eds.), Collaboration with Parents of Exceptional Children. Brandon: VT, CPPC.

Sellenet, C. (2004). Animer des groupes de parole de parents. Silence... On parle !. Paris: L'Harmattan.

Contacts: Anne-Marie Doucet-Dahlgren, Université Paris X - Nanterre, 70 Rue Duhesme - 70018 Paris - France, E-mail:  anne-marie.doucet-dahlgren@u-paris10.fr, Phone 0033 142513909.

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