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Extension’s co-parenting outreach is all about children

The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service’s co-parenting program isn’t new – it’s been around for more than 20 years – yet it continues to deliver fresh reserves of resilience and hope to divorcing and separated couples who remain committed to working together to raise their children.

Offered in nearly all of Oklahoma’s 77 counties and with details available at coparenting.okstate.edu, Co-Parenting for Resilience helps parents be the best parents possible despite a changing family structure.

“The importance of co-parenting is every child has two parents and they’re equally a part of both parents so it’s very important that as they’re growing up, they have both parents active in their lives,” said Katey Masri, Co-Parenting for Resilience project coordinator. “The idea of our class is to try to get parents to focus on their children instead of the anger they may have towards one another.”

The research is clear on this point. Unless there are high levels of conflict and violence, kids do best when both parents are involved in their lives. In cases where it is not possible for parents to stay together, the second best option is keeping them both active in their children’s lives, and that’s where Co-Parenting for Resilience comes into play.

“We know when parents go through divorce, it’s an emotionally traumatic time for them. With both parents emotionally charged, there’s lots of conflict and the children end up getting caught in the middle, and, at times, are even used as leverage by one parent to get back at the other parent,” said Ron Cox, OSU associate professor, Human Development and Family Science and co-developer of Co-Parenting for Resilience. “Co-Parenting for Resilience is all about giving parents the skills they need to keep their child out of the middle of their divorce and to help the children adjust to their new situation as quickly and as painlessly as possible.”

In 2016, 2,400 parents took the class in person while another 535 took advantage of the online version through late November.

Additionally, through seven classes held in Spanish last year, 70 more families were served last year.

Though participants more often than not arrive for Co-Parenting for Resilience on the defensive, unsure of what to expect and armed with little to no knowledge of the concept of co-parenting, those same participants frequently leave with vastly different mindsets and outlooks.

“We hear this over and over again at the end of the class. Participants say ‘I wish I would’ve had this class before I had children or before going through the divorce. This has been so helpful,’” said Lynn Null, director of the Extension office in Comanche County, who teams with Brenda Gandy, a Stephens County Extension family and consumer educator, to teach the course twice a month.

“I believe Extension’s co-parenting class has been effective for so long because the focus of the class is on what is in the best interest of the child,” Null said. “This class is presented in a nonjudgmental way. It is presented in a way to help families learn the skills they need to help children succeed.”

Additional support for program participants comes in the form of follow-up monthly email blasts on various co-parenting topics and tips.

The program consistently earns high marks from participants in critical areas such as reducing conflict, increasing children’s positive adjustment to divorce or separation and teaching participants new ways of being effective parents during and after the divorce.

Equipping parents with the tools to be successful is evidence of the course’s evolution. Years ago, the class covered the effects of divorce on children, but did nothing to help parents bridge the gap between awareness and action.

“The program is designed to move people both cognitively and emotionally from Point A to Point B. It’s purposeful,” said Matt Brosi, OSU associate professor, Human Development and Family Science and co-developer of the Co-Parenting for Resilience program. “Where our previous classes, and most other classes rely on conveying information to parents, this program actually incorporates some behavior change strategies we think are behind the effectiveness and good results we’re finding with this program.”

Interestingly, although the class isn’t about reconciliation, preliminary data from 2016 evaluations indicates 32 percent of couples – both parties – who completed Co-Parenting for Resilience said they would consider taking advantage of a class to help them reconcile their differences and stay together, if such a course was offered.

“What that shows is that often in our culture of divorce, parents get into problems in the marriage and really the only option they see is divorce so they tend to move quickly in that direction or kind of slide into that decision,” Cox said. “Part of what the class does is give them tools for working together so they have this ‘a-ha’ moment of thinking if they’d had these tools before, maybe they wouldn’t be getting a divorce. Co-Parenting for Resilience introduces hope for a more meaningful, calm, peaceful relationship.”

Co-parenting curriculums have drawn increased attention in Oklahoma since a 2014 law went into effect mandating divorcing couples with minor children to attend a parenting education class related to the effects of divorce on children.

While that’s opened the door to the potential for more competition, Co-Parenting for Resilience remains unique, even within the more crowded marketplace.

Beyond being research-based, the program employs proven theories of change, moving participants beyond knowledge to promoting actual behavior changes. It also takes advantage of Extension’s network of educators across the state.

“Co-parenting is a perfect example of how research at a major land-grant institution is translated into a program and then disseminated into the community throughout the state by the network of educators in Extension,” Cox said.

In addition, as part of the class’s robust evaluation component, each participant provides baseline data as well as feedback immediately after the course and during a six-month follow-up.

“We’re able to use the research literature, our own data and feedback from educators and participants to continuously monitor and improve the class. This ensures that the class is always using the latest research and maintains the highest standards of quality,” Cox said.

Looking ahead, curriculum administrators hope to build increasing awareness particularly among judges and family lawyers about the unique qualities the course offers.

“Most other programs focus on increasing parental knowledge or perhaps attitudes, the Co-Parenting for Resilience program is one of the first to document actual changes in behavior,” Cox said. “We are very excited.”

Bottom line? Parents overwhelmingly love their kids, but they also are overwhelmed by the stresses of divorce. Co-Parenting for Resilience helps families navigate new territory.

“This class is important because at a very critical time in their personal development and the development of their child, this information is available to help them chart a new course in behavior and attitude to benefit their child and reduce the impact of divorce on the child,” Cox said. “They really want to do that, and this is one of the very, very few resources they have to learn how to do that.”

For more information about Co-Parenting for Resilience and related co-parenting resources, visit coparenting.okstate.edu and contact any county Extension office.

 

 

Leilana McKindra
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
Oklahoma State University
405.744.6792
leilana.mckindra@okstate.edu

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078
405.744.5000

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