Circle of Parents®

About This Program

Target Population: Parents or individuals in a parenting role for children ages 0-18 years and their children ages birth to 12

For children/adolescents ages: 0 – 12

For parents/caregivers of children ages: 0 – 12

Program Overview

Circle of Parents is a mutual self-help support group model that is designed to prevent child abuse and neglect and strengthen families. Weekly Circle of Parents support group meetings are attended by parents who want to exchange ideas, share information, develop and practice new parenting skills, learn about community resources, and give and receive support. This may include biological parents, adoptive parents, foster parents, grandparents, kinship caregivers, etc. Circle of Parents groups are:

  • Parent-led with the support of a trained group facilitator
  • Conducted in a confidential and nonjudgmental manner
  • Free of charge
  • Held concurrently with developmentally appropriate children's programs or child care

Developing leadership on the individual, family, community, and societal levels, as desired by parent participants, is a cornerstone of the Circle of Parents model. Circle of Parents groups can also be used with specific groups such as fathers, parents of children with disabilities, parents with disabilities, immigrant and refugee families, incarcerated parents, teen parents, parents in substance addiction recovery, and other parenting challenges. While the Circle of Parents Model Training includes the same basic information, each Program Director ensures that there is additional information/knowledge available to the group's staff to successfully support the group's specialty area.

The Circle of Parents model also includes a Children's Circle program. A structured Children's Program is highly recommended for children of ages birth to 12. If a local group is not able to provide a structured program, it is expected that some type of supervised childcare be provided.

Program Goals

The goals of Circle of Parents® are:

Parenting goals:

  • Increase the knowledge of child abuse and neglect prevention including the generational transmission of Adverse Childhood Experiences
  • Increase ability to form nurturing and secure parent-child attachment
  • Increase knowledge of positive parenting and child development
  • Increase resilience/positive coping skills
  • Increase the social connections and ability to give and receive support
  • Increase connections to concrete supports and services
  • Increase the knowledge of healthy social and emotional development of children

The goals for the children through the Children's Circles (this is what the children's programs are called) are:

  • Learn developmentally appropriate, healthy peer relationship skills
  • Increase confidence
  • Learn self-management skills
  • Learn positive problem-solving
  • Improve self-worth

Logic Model

View the Logic Model for Circle of Parents®.

Essential Components

The essential components of Circle of Parents® include:

  • Utilizing the Circle of Parents mutual support model
  • A trained group facilitator and parent leader facilitate the support groups of 5-12 participants
  • Offering free groups that meet regularly
  • Having the group facilitator, parent leader, and other group members available to one another between group meetings
  • Assuring group members of confidentiality in a nonjudgmental environment within the limits of the law
  • Having community resource information that supports healthy family development available to all group members
  • Strengthening each family's protective factors by:
    • Reducing isolation, building self-esteem, and reinforcing positive parenting
    • Exposing parents to other families and providing reassurances that the challenges parents face are neither unique to their families nor insurmountable
    • Improving communication and problem-solving skills
    • Promoting parent leadership skills and competencies
    • Establishing effective parent-facilitator partnerships
    • Linking parents to resources in the community and within the group
    • Helping parents become more competent and confident in their parenting roles
  • Circle of Parents support groups are usually evaluated at the state level using a survey tool such as the Protective Factors Survey which measures the following areas:
    • Parenting skills
    • Self-management skills
    • Parent-child interaction
    • Social support systems
    • Awareness of and access to community resources
  • Program Supervisor's role is to ensure that the local group programs adhere to the best practice standards of the Circle of Parents model. They are responsible for:
    • Overseeing the local programs
    • Arranging for training using the National Circle of Parents Model training curriculum
    • Providing on-going technical assistance to ensure fidelity to the Circle of Parents program model
    • Collecting statistical data about the group participants from each of their local programs
    • Completing state data reports
  • A structured Children's Program is highly recommended for children of ages birth to 12. If a local group is not able to provide a structured program, it is expected that some type of supervised childcare be provided:
    • The objectives of the children's program are as follows:
      • Provide a safe, nurturing, and supportive environment for children
      • Provide opportunities for children to develop self-esteem and social skills
      • Support children in learning safe and healthy ways to handle feelings
      • Model effective problem-solving and conflict resolution techniques
      • Support children and parents to establish trust and positive interactions with each other
    • The Circle of Parents Model Training includes specific training for children's program staff.
    • A Children's Program Manual is available to provide guidance to program structure and operations.
    • The Children's Program Leader is:
      • Required to have at least one year of experience with children's programming
      • Responsible for overseeing the other staff working in the children's program
      • Responsible for providing appropriate activities for the children's groups
    • Appropriate children to adult ratios are observed.

Program Delivery

Child/Adolescent Services

Circle of Parents® directly provides services to children/adolescents and addresses the following:

  • Children up to and through age 12 who may have low self-esteem, poor social skills, inability to handle feelings in healthy and safe ways, inadequate problem-solving and conflict resolution ability, trust issues

Parent/Caregiver Services

Circle of Parents® directly provides services to parents/caregivers and addresses the following:

  • Have a child (or children) 0-12 years of age in their life (lives) who may have challenging behaviors that may include special needs/mental health issues and challenging developmental issues

Recommended Intensity:

Support groups meet once weekly for an average of 1.5 hours. Occasionally, due to factors such as access in rural communities, availability of the program site or the choice of the particular group, the group may meet less often but not less than once a month.

Recommended Duration:

The length of time for participation is open-ended except for situations where the program setting or structure limits the availability of the program. For example, programs that occur in schools may only operate 9 months out of the year and programs that occur in correctional institutions may be time limited by direction of the authorities.

Delivery Settings

This program is typically conducted in a(n):

  • Community Daily Living Setting
  • Outpatient Clinic
  • Community-based Agency / Organization / Provider
  • Justice Setting (Juvenile Detention, Jail, Prison, Courtroom, etc.)
  • School Setting (Including: Day Care, Day Treatment Programs, etc.)


Circle of Parents® includes a homework component:

Participants share leadership and accountability for the success of the group and each participant. Consequently, parents are expected to apply new ideas and skills at home and report back to the group what worked and what did not. Parents are also responsible for following up with recommended community resources that are shared or discussed.


Circle of Parents® has materials available in a language other than English:


For information on which materials are available in this language, please check on the program's website or contact the program representative (contact information is listed at the bottom of this page).

Resources Needed to Run Program

The typical resources for implementing the program are:

For the parent support group sessions, a safe, consistent, and private meeting location is necessary to maintain participant confidentiality. Each group must have a trained facilitator and parent leader(s). Attendance sheets and enrollment forms are helpful for gathering key summative data for the national office, although names of participants are neither necessary nor required. Participant outcomes survey data are collected using a coding system and must be stored in a locked cabinet to further ensure participant confidentiality.

Group facilitators must have access to resources with special expertise in other areas such as domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental health, as well as information to address needs for concrete support. In addition to having sufficient financial resources to support basic operations, equipment, and material purchases, groups should budget for expenses as needed by the individual program, such as stipends for parent leaders, transportation vouchers, children's program providers, guest speakers, and refreshments.

For the structured Children's Circle services, a safe location separate from the parent session should be available and include a range of developmentally appropriate supplies, educational materials, and nutritious snacks. The Children's Program includes a lesson plan of topical circle time, related crafts, and stories. When possible, the Children's Circle should mirror the topics discussed in the adult program.

The seating arrangement for the parent support groups should be circular to facilitate the flow of the conversation. Age-appropriate furniture should be available in the Children's Circles. In both settings, culturally appropriate decor should be evident, and culturally appropriate resource materials, in both English and Spanish, should be easily accessible. Programs are encouraged to have access to audiovisual equipment as needed.

Manuals and Training

Prerequisite/Minimum Provider Qualifications

Group facilitators must have previous experience working with parents and families, group facilitation skills, willingness to engage in equal and mutually respective partnerships with parents, and a commitment to ending all forms of family violence. Minimum education requirements consist of a Bachelor's degree plus two years of work experience or less education and 5 years of human services work experience. Facilitators are required to receive program screening and training and adhere to the mission, principles, key elements and network standards as outlined in the Facilitator Manual and presented during the National Circle of Parents® model training. Group facilitators must have a commitment to parent leadership and guide participants in developing and establishing group leadership roles as determined by individual preferences, abilities, and strengths. Parents who become facilitators will have demonstrated leadership experience in a support group. They may be employees, serve as volunteers, or receive stipends from the sponsoring organization.

Program supervisors must have previous experience managing a family support program, program evaluation and data collection skills, knowledge of group dynamics and facilitation, knowledge of mandated reporter requirements for suspected child abuse and neglect, and the ability to link group participants, as needed, to community resources that address concrete needs, mental health issues, domestic violence, substance addiction, and/or medical problems. Minimum educational requirements consist of a Master's degree in social services plus 2 years work experience or Bachelor's degree with 5 years of social services experience or 8 years of equivalent social service experience. Program supervisors report to the State Lead who coordinates the Circle of Parents® program state-wide. The State Lead supports the local program staff with technical assistance and training and is the liaison with the National Circle of Parents network.

Manual Information

There is a manual that describes how to deliver this program.

Training Information

There is training available for this program.

Training Contact:
Training Type/Location:

Training in Circle of Parents® is required. Circle of Parents® can only be conducted in states that have membership in the national network as Circle of Parents is a registered program. Programs may not use the Circle of Parents® brand without proper authorization which requires a state lead agency become the state member of the National Circle of Parents® network. National Circle of Parents® Model training is conducted for program supervisors, facilitators, parent leaders, and Children's Circle staff by the Circle of Parents Trainer(s) in each state that have completed the Train the Trainer (T3) training. Training is usually provided at a location arranged by the state network leader which can be at the state Circle of Parents office location, or offered in conjunction with statewide conferences, or on-site in communities offering these programs.

The national office offers a Train the Trainers (T3) training. Participants usually include the Statewide Program Coordinator (also referred to as the State Lead) as well as individuals from the state that will be responsible for presenting the training in their state. Once individuals complete T3 training, they are authorized to train using the Model Training and ongoing technical assistance to the local support programs. The national office provides trainers with appropriate materials; including the Facilitator Manual, the Children's Program Manual, parent handbooks, and parent tip sheets. Additional trainings provided by the National Training Team include Model Training for new state organizations when they join the national network.

There is also a national Training and Technical Assistance (TA) Committee that oversees its ongoing training and TA activities. The Training and TA Committee disseminates relevant educational materials and designs and implements a series of 4 TA group calls/webinars per year based upon training needs identified by members.

Number of days/hours:

National Circle of Parents® Model Training is offered by the state network organizations' national trainers. It is recommended that the training be conducted over 3 days. The Train the Trainer training provided by the national office takes place over the course of 3 days and is held annually.

Relevant Published, Peer-Reviewed Research

Wituk, S., Commer, A., Lindstrom, J., & Meisen, G. (2001). The benefits of parenting self-help groups for rural Latino families. Journal of Rural Community Psychology, E4(1).

Type of Study: One-group pretest–posttest study
Number of Participants: 118


  • Age — 18–42 years
  • Race/Ethnicity — 100% Latino
  • Gender — 94% Female and 6% Male
  • Status — Participants were members of one of seven Parents Helping Parents (PHP) groups in rural Kansas counties.

Location/Institution: Kansas

Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
The purpose of the study was to examine Latinos’ satisfaction with parenting self-help groups in rural communities and their effect on family relations, communication, and methods of discipline. The Kansas Children’s Service League (KCSL) asked the Self-Help Network of Kansas [now called Circle of Parents] to research parents’ satisfaction with the PHP group experience, what they have found useful, and the impact of the groups on members’ parenting. Measures utilized include a questionnaire that assessed satisfaction with PHP groups, strengthening families, communication between family members, and alternative means of discipline. Results indicate that respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they had become more patient with their children since attending the group; that the information presented at the group had helped them better understand their children; and that since attending the group, they had learned more positive ways to deal with their children. Limitations include the primary use of self-report data, the questionable generalizability of a primarily Latino population in one area, the lack of a no-treatment control group, and the lack of follow-up data.

Length of controlled postintervention follow-up: None.

Falconer, M. K., Haskett, M. E., McDaniels, L., Dirkes, T., & Siegel, E. (2008). Evaluation of support groups for child abuse prevention: Outcomes of four state evaluations. Social Work with Groups, 31(2), 165–182.

Type of Study: One-group pretest–posttest study
Number of Participants: Florida: 188, Minnesota: 101, Washington: 564, and North Carolina: 89


  • Age — Not specified
  • Race/Ethnicity — FL: 39% African American (AA), 39% Hispanic (HI), 19% White (WH), & 2% Native American (NA); MN: 44% WH, 20% HI, 17% AA, 11% Asian/Pacific Islander (API), & 3% NA; WA: 51% WH, 32% HI, 7% NA, 4% AA, & 3% API; NC: 46% HI, 29% WH, & 23% AA
  • Gender — Florida: 92% Female and 8% Male; Minnesota: 77% Female and 23% Male; Washington: 81% Female and 19% Male; North Carolina: 82% Female and 18% Male
  • Status — Participants were parents with children at risk for child abuse and neglect.

Location/Institution: Florida, Minnesota, Washington, and North Carolina

Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
The purpose of the study was to identify some of the major challenges in the evaluation of parent support groups, provide strategies for minimizing these potential difficulties, and illustrate successful evaluations of the Circle of Parents® program in four states. Measures utilized include questionnaires relevant to demographic characteristics, history of attendance at group meetings, parent satisfaction with the groups, parents’ experiences with violence and maltreatment during their childhood, and goals of Circle of Parents. Results indicate that based on findings from the evaluations in all four states, it is apparent that groups were quite successful in producing changes in multiple domains of functioning related to effective, nonabusive parenting. Further, the level of satisfaction of parents with the support groups was very high. Limitations include non-randomization of participants, reliance on self-reported measures, lack of a no-alternative-treatment control group, and the lack of follow-up data.

Length of controlled postintervention follow-up: None.

Haskett, M. E., Okoniewski, K. C., Armstrong, J. M., Galanti, S., Lowder, E., Loehman, J., & Lanier, P. J. (2017). Feasibility, acceptability, and effects of a peer support group to prevent child maltreatment among parents experiencing homelessness. Children and Youth Services Review, 73, 187–196.

Type of Study: Pretest–posttest study with a nonequivalent control group (Quasi-experimental)
Number of Participants: 80


  • Age — Not specified
  • Race/Ethnicity — 63 African American
  • Gender — 77 Female and 3 Male
  • Status — Participants were homeless individuals living in transitional housing or shelters.

Location/Institution: Not specified

Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
The purpose of the study was to investigate if Circle of Parents was a feasible, acceptable, and effective intervention for parents residing in shelters. Participants were residing in one of four housing programs (2 shelters, 2 transitional housing) where Circle of Parents was offered (treatment group) and participants in the services-as-usual (SAU) group were residing in one of three housing programs (2 shelters; 1 shelter/transitional housing mix) that did not offer Circle of Parents. Measures utilized include Protective Factors Survey (PFS) and a client satisfaction questionnaire. Results indicate that promising evidence was found for the acceptability and feasibility of Circle of Parents. However, analyses of PFS data showed little difference in effectiveness between Circle of Parents and services-as-usual comparison groups. Limitations include lack of randomization, attrition, reliance on self-reported measures, lack of generalizability due to ethnicity and gender of participants, and lack of follow-up.

Length of controlled postintervention follow-up: None.

Additional References

Falconer, M. K., (2007). Building the evidence for Circle of Parents® as a model for preventing child abuse and neglect. Prevention Brief, 1(1), The Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida.

Falconer, M. K. (2005-2006). Mutual self-help parent support groups in the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

Prevent Child Abuse America, National Family Support Roundtable, & Circle of Parents. (2005). National Network of Mutual Support and Self-Help Programs in Partnership with Communities: Final report. Circle of Parents.

Contact Information

Julie Rivnak-McAdam
Title: Circle of Parents Program Manager
Phone: (540) 412-5826

Date Research Evidence Last Reviewed by CEBC: July 2023

Date Program Content Last Reviewed by Program Staff: November 2023

Date Program Originally Loaded onto CEBC: June 2010