Centre for Crisis Psychology
Parenting programme in rural and peri-urban communities

Parental mental wellbeing and child development: Mixed methods study of a parenting programme in rural and peri-urban Malawian communities

The study addresses the buffering effect of parents and caregivers for fostering healthy child development, as well as mental health and psychological support for caregivers.

Main content

Although the negative impacts on children growing up under difficult conditions are profound, the mediating or buffering effect of caregiving can be powerful. Nurturing parents and caregivers constitute an important protection for young children. Therefore, enabling guardians to care for their children should be a priority. Children need stable and secure adults that can make them feel safe and help them make sense of the world and regulate themselves when facing new impulses. Supporting and fostering the mental health and wellbeing of caregivers are viewed as important ways to promote mental health and wellbeing in children. There is a gap in knowledge on how to implement such support and how to best do this in a holistic and sustainable manner. Increased knowledge on implementation of psychosocial support as an integrated part of a real-life programme that also explores contextual factors, and degree of engagement and meaningfulness, will hopefully contribute to reducing this gap.

Aims and objectives:
The overall aim of this study is to explore what works, for who and when, regarding parenting programmes, integrated interventions, the wellbeing of caregivers, and nurturing care.

  • Objective 1: Explore facilitators and barriers to implementing an added component to the parenting programme, and important contextual factors to consider when providing such support to parents/caregivers in Malawi.
  • Objective 2: Assess the feasibility and acceptability of an added intervention of psychological support and its integration into the existing parenting programme.
  • Objective 3: Evaluate the intervention and its implementation and explore mechanisms of change, participant engagement and satisfaction.

Brief design and methods:
Using qualitative and quantitative methods, we are conducting the study in three phases:

(i) a formative study exploring caregiving practices and views on psychological wellbeing, as well as strengths and weaknesses of the existing parenting programme and how it fits into the family strengthening programme for promoting caregiver wellbeing and child development,

(ii) an intervention feasibility study with a pre-post-test-design with an added component of psychosocial support to caregivers, assessing the feasibility and acceptability of the intervention, the implementation, and its integration into the existing support and examine whether there are preliminary pre-post improvements on parental mental wellbeing, and

(iii) a qualitative evaluation exploring the mechanisms of change of the intervention and how the interventions are perceived and experienced by the caregivers and the providers.

This mixed method study will in total recruit 164 respondents, mainly caregivers and parents who take part in the parenting programme as part of the Family Strengthening Programme (FSP) of SOS Children’s Villages Malawi, as well as field officers/social workers and programme managers with SOS Malawi who work with the FSP/parenting programme. As part of the formative study, we will additionally recruit representatives from community-based organisations and policymakers who work with parenting programmes and early childhood development (ECD) for interviews. We aim to recruit the several of the same caregivers and field officers for all three phases.

Time frame: 2022-2025

Project staff:
PhD Candidate: Henriette Risvoll, PhD Candidate, Centre for Crisis Psychology, University of Bergen.

The team of supervisors consists of:

Ragnhild Dybdahl (main supervisor), Associate Professor in Global Mental Health at University of Bergen
Genesis Chorwe-Sungani, Associate Professor in Mental Health and Executive Dean for School of Nursing at Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHeS)
John Phuka, Executive Dean for the School of Public and Global Health (SOGAPH) at Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHeS)
Melissa Gladstone, Professor of International Child Health and Neurodevelopmental Paediatrics at Faculty of Health & Life Sciences University of Liverpool

Other research team members are:

Joel Nkhonya, Research Coordinator Lilongwe study setting, Japhet Myaba, Research Coordinator Blantyre study setting. Research assistants: Justice Khosa, Thokozani Chisaka, Jonathan Kumalasa and Caroline Ntopi.