Circle of Parents

About This Program

Target Population: Any parent or individual in a parenting role for children ages 0-18 years

For parents/caregivers of children ages: 0 – 18

Program Overview

Circle of Parents is a national network of statewide non-profit organizations and parent leaders that are dedicated to using the mutual self-help support group model as a means of preventing child abuse and neglect and strengthening families. Circle of Parents offers anyone in a parenting role the opportunity to participate in weekly group meetings with other parents 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. Many Circle of Parents programs target specific groups such as fathers, parents of children with disabilities, parents with disabilities, immigrant and refugee families, incarcerated parents, teen parents, parents in substance abuse recovery, and other parenting challenges. Groups are parent-led with the support of a trained group facilitator, are conducted in a confidential and non-judgmental manner, are free of charge, and provide developmentally appropriate children’s programs or child care concurrent with the parent group meetings. Developing leadership on the individual, family, community, and societal levels, as desired by parent participants, is a central theme of the Circle of Parents model.

Program Goals

The program representative did not provide information about the program’s goals.

Essential Components

The essential components of Circle of Parents include:

  • Utilizing a mutual self-help support model
  • Having a trained group facilitator and parent leader facilitate the support groups of 10-12 participants
  • Offering open and free groups that meet weekly
  • Having the group facilitator, parent leader, and other group members available to one another between group meetings
  • Offering ongoing groups that require no intake, and with few exceptions, are open to all parents
  • Assuring group members of confidentiality in a non-judgmental 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 a parent faces are neither unique to his or her family, nor insurmountable
    • Improving communication and problem solving skills
    • Promoting parent leadership skills and competencies
    • Establishing effective parent-practitioner partnerships
    • Linking parents to resources in the community and within the group
    • Helping parents become more competent and confident in their parenting roles
  • Evaluating Circle of Parents by addressing the following domains:
    • Parenting skills
    • Self-management skills
    • Parent-child interaction
    • Social support systems
    • Awareness of and access to community resources

Program Delivery

Parent/Caregiver Services

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

  • Have a child and would like to receive or share advice on parenting
Services Involve Family/Support Structures:

This program involves the family or other support systems in the individual's treatment: Children’s programs can be offered to provide a safe, nurturing, and educational environment for children while their parents are participating in Circle of Parents support group sessions. The goal is to provide developmentally appropriate, skill building activities that promote:Self-confidenceSocial skillsHealthy peer relationshipsSelf-managementPositive problem-solvingA Children’s Program Manual is available to provide guidance to program structure and operations. If a children’s program is not feasible, it is strongly recommended that quality childcare should be provided or easily available.

Recommended Intensity:

Support groups meet once weekly for an average of 1½ 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 Agency
  • Community Daily Living Setting
  • Outpatient Clinic
  • Prison or prerelease center
  • Religious Organization
  • School


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 children's program, 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 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 program room. In both settings, culturally-appropriate décor should be evident, and culturally-appropriate resource materials, in both English and Spanish, should be easily accessible. Programs are encouraged to have access to audio-visual equipment as needed.

Education and Training

Prerequisite/Minimum Provider Qualifications

Support 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 work experience or 5 years 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 presented in the Facilitator Manual. 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. Group facilitators may be practitioners or parent leaders. Parents who become facilitators should have demonstrated leadership experience in a program 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 abuse, 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.

Education and Training Resources

There is a manual that describes how to implement this program , and there is training available for this program.

Training Contact:
Training is obtained:

The national office offers a Train the Trainers (T3) training. Participants usually include the program coordinator as well as individuals from the lead state network organization that is responsible for developing support groups within their respective states. Once individuals complete T3 training, they are authorized to provide support group facilitation training and ongoing technical assistance to the local support programs. The national office provides them with an adequate supply of appropriate materials, including the Facilitator Manual, the Children's Program Manual, parent handbooks and parent tip sheets. Regularly scheduled T3 Trainings are held in the Chicago area. Additional trainings can be arranged for new state organizations that join the national network between regularly scheduled trainings.

Support group facilitation training is conducted by the approved trainer(s) in each state. They are provided either within the state office location, in conjunction with statewide conferences, or on-site in communities offering these programs.

There is also a national Training and Technical Assistance (TA) Committee that oversees its ongoing training and TA activities. Beginning with an annual Best Practices Self-Assessment, which is completed by each state network organization, the Training and TA Committee disseminates relevant educational materials and designs and implements a series of 4 TA group calls per year based upon training needs identified in the self-assessments. Additional TA group calls are designed and provided in association with special projects within the curriculum.

Furthermore, within the context of shared responsibility for ensuring quality services, the national staff and state network organizations also exchange valuable resources through postings on a list serve and entries into an electronic library. The electronic library contains numerous documents that address program governance and leadership, program administration and development, marketing and outreach, training and technical assistance, parent leadership, research and evaluation and child abuse prevention.

Number of days/hours:

The Train the Trainer session provided by the national office takes place over the course of 3 days. Support group facilitation training offered by the state network organizations is typically conducted in 2 days.

Relevant Published, Peer-Reviewed Research

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

Type of Study: Within-group pretest-posttest design
Number of Participants: 118


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

Location/Institution: Kansas

Summary: (To include comparison groups, outcomes, measures, notable limitations)
The purpose of this 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 to research parents’ satisfaction with the PHP group experience [now called Circle of Parents], what they have found useful, and the impact of the groups on members’ parenting. The Self-Help Network contacted current PHP group facilitators (in rural Kansas), who administered a survey to their group members. In order to assess participants’ experiences with PHP groups, a 40-item questionnaire, based on the objectives and goals of PHP groups, was developed. This questionnaire assessed participants’ experiences in four primary areas: 1) satisfaction with PHP groups, 2) strengthening families, 3) communication between family members, and 4) alternative means of discipline. Of the returned surveys, 36% of respondents indicated that they had been attending for over 12 months and 61% indicated that they attended PHP group meetings at least on a monthly basis. Additionally, 94% stated that they had planned to continue to attend group meetings in the future. Over 85% agreed or strongly agreed that they had received information about resources and services from the group that would be helpful to them as a parent. Nearly 84% agreed or strongly agreed that overall, they were satisfied with the group. Among the outcomes that reflected the four primary areas targeted by the questionnaire: 76% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they had become more patient with their children since attending the group; 80% agreed or strongly agreed that the information presented at the group had helped them better understand their children; 75% agreed or strongly agreed 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 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: A Journal of Community and Clinical Practice, 31(2), 165-182.

Type of Study: Within-group pre-/post-test evaluation design
Number of Participants: Florida: 188, Minnesota: 101, Washington: 564, North Carolina: 89


  • Age — Not Specified
  • Race/Ethnicity — FL: 18.5% White (WH), 39.3% Hispanic (HI), 39.3% African American (AA), & 1.7% Native American (NA); MN: 44% WH, 20% HI, 17% AA, 3% NA, & 11% Asian/Pacific Islander (API); WA: 51% WH, 32% HI, 4% AA, 7% NA, & 3% API; NC: 29% WH, 46% HI, & 23% AA
  • Gender — Florida: 91.7% Female and 8.3% Male; Minnesota: 77.2% Female and 22.8% Male; Washington: 80.8% Female and 19.2% Male; North Carolina: 82% Female and 18% Male
  • Status — Participants were members of Circle of Parents support groups.

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

Summary: (To include comparison groups, outcomes, measures, notable limitations)
Data was collected in all participating states through survey administration, using the retrospective pretest method, which assessed parents’ current functioning and perceptions of functioning at the start of attendance at group meetings. Questionnaires addressed two major content areas. The first content area included questions relevant to demographic characteristics of the parent, history of attendance at group meetings, parent satisfaction with the groups, and parents’ experiences with violence and maltreatment during their childhood, which assessed maltreatment risk. The second content area included items related to program outcomes that corresponded with the goals of Circle of Parents. This area assessed parenting skills, self-management skills, quality of the parent and child interaction, support system awareness, and use of resources in the community. In FL and NC, parents used a 5-point scale to indicate how often they engaged in various behaviors before participation in the parent support group and “currently” (i.e., at the time of the evaluation). A rating of “1” represented low frequency (never) and “5” represented high frequency (always). Three states (FL, NC, and WA) used t-tests to examine outcomes; results were highly consistent across these states. FL parents reported an average rating of 3.28 (out of the 5-point scale) on the frequency with which they learned about community resources before coming to group and a 4.29 average rating at the time of the evaluation. Using a 10-point scale, WA parents had an average rating of 4.34 before coming to group on whether they had control over their level of stress and an average rating of 7.17 at the time of the evaluation. Limitations of these evaluations are the self-report nature of the collected data, the lack of a no-alternative-treatment control group, as well as the lack of follow-up data.

Length of 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. Retrieved from

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, Chicago, IL. Retrieved from

Contact Information

Julie Rivnak-McAdam
Title: Circle of Parents Administrative Coordinator
Phone: (804) 308-0841

Date Research Evidence Last Reviewed by CEBC: March 2014

Date Program Content Last Reviewed by Program Staff: June 2010

Date Program Originally Loaded onto CEBC: June 2010