Randomized controlled trial of a parenting program to reduce the risk of child maltreatment in South Africa

Lachman, J. M., Cluver, L., Ward, C. L., Hutchings, J., Mlotshwa, S., Wessels, I., & Gardner, F.


Parenting programs in high-income countries have been shown to reduce the risk of child maltreatment. However, there is limited evidence of their effectiveness in low- and middle-income countries. The objective of this study was to examine the initial effects of a parenting program in reducing the risk of child maltreatment in highly-deprived and vulnerable communities in Cape Town, South Africa.

Low-income parents (N = 68) with children aged three to eight years were randomly assigned to either a group-based parenting program or a wait-list control group. Observational and parent-report assessments were taken at baseline and at immediate post-test after the intervention was delivered.

Primary outcomes were parent-report and observational assessments of harsh parenting, positive parenting, and child behavior problems. Secondary outcomes were parent-report assessments of parental depression, parenting stress, and social support.

Results indicated moderate treatment effects for increased frequency of parent-report of positive parenting (d = 0.63) and observational assessments of parent-child play (d = 0.57). Observational assessments also found moderate negative treatment effects for less frequent positive child behavior (d = −0.56). This study is the first randomized controlled trial design to rigorously test the effectiveness of a parenting program on reducing the risk of child maltreatment in sub-Saharan Africa using both observational and self-report assessments. Results provide preliminary evidence of effectiveness of reducing the risk of child maltreatment by improving positive parenting behavior.

Further development is required to strengthen program components regarding child behavior management and nonviolent discipline strategies. Future research would benefit from a larger trial with sufficient power to determine program effectiveness.