This report details an evaluation of the effectiveness of the Hong Kong Family Welfare Society’s (HKFWS) co-parenting and parenting coordination services, which are largely informed by the Cooperative Parenting Institute’s (CPI) model. The evaluation followed a mixed-methods approach that integrated a quantitative study as well as a qualitative study.
The Quantitative Study
As part of a pretest–post-test design involving non-equivalent groups to examine the effectiveness of the HKFWS’s co-parenting and parenting coordination services, questionnaires were collected at intake (i.e. pretest), after co-parenting education (i.e. interim), and a year after pretest (i.e. post-test). In all, 87 parents—35 in the control group and 52 in the experimental group—completed pretest questionnaires, 64 completed interim questionnaires, and 73 completed post-test questionnaires, for pretest–post-test return rates of 60.0% for the control group and 100.0% for the experimental one. In parallel, 31 children were recruited at pretest, 29 of whom completed post-test questionnaires, for a return rate of 93.5%. Last, 205 social workers or related professionals completed questionnaires addressing professional training during six training sessions held between July 2017 and May 2018.
Results of the quantitative study revealed that the CPI-informed co-parenting education, as part of the HKFWS’s co-parenting services, exerted only a short-term effect on parents’ motivation and commitment to engaging in post-divorce co-parenting and their awareness of rising social expectations for post-divorce co-parenting. Among other results, intensive CPI-based services reduced inter-parental conflict and inter-parental communication, facilitated the significant emotional detachment of parents from former spouses as part of a non-antagonistic parallel pattern of co-parenting. The intervention successfully moved the parents from conflicting co-parenting to parallel co-parenting, which is widely recognized as a beneficial and feasible co-parenting pattern for post-divorce families with high-conflict parents. Consequently, their children experienced significant relief from being triangulated in inter-parental conflicts, improved intimacy with non-resident parents, and enhanced wellbeing.
The Qualitative Study
The participants for the qualitative study consisted of 21 parents and five children from 15 families, three social workers from agencies other than the HKFWS, and a peer counsellor. Consistent with findings from the quantitative study, qualitative results revealed that the HKFWS’s co-parenting and parenting coordination services reduced inter-parental conflict and allowed parents to engage in more civilised communication with the other parties. The services also helped parents to resolve challenging disputes regarding arrangements to coordinate their children’s activities and visits with non-resident parents, reduced the triangulation of children in inter-parental conflicts, strengthened parent–child bonding, and improved children’s wellbeing.
As revealed during interviews, participants appreciated the HKFWS’s cultivation of and commitment to observing a child-focused relational perspective, as well as platforms for communication developed for the workable negotiation of child-related arrangement. The intensive CPI-informed services enhanced the parents’ awareness of interaction dynamics that could overcome negative circularity, and the facilitation of perspective taking and mutual understanding fostered their mutual trust. The services that supported parents’ rehearsal of civilized responses in possible conflicts with the other parties, attentive coaching, and engagement in follow-up reviews also equipped parents with concrete skills and strong sources of support. The CPI’s guide for parents and children’s books served as easily accessible resources to parents. Moreover, participating social workers and peer counsellor considered the services to be outstanding given the sustained, thoughtful efforts of social workers in engaging and helping both parents, maintaining good inter-agency collaboration, and nurturing social worker–peer counsellor coordination.
However, some parents reported that their counselling needs went unmet and that the services were fragmented due to rigid service boundaries in the absence of designated key workers. The co-parenting course was beneficial in equipping the parents with a child-focused perspective but insufficient to support them to implement child-focused co-parenting. At the same time, although the fathers’ group provided non-resident fathers with sound emotional support, unresolved hurt and anger that circulated in their self-initiated social media group posed the risk of gender-based antagonism against resident mothers. Despite their appreciation of the child-focused perspective, some parents failed to recognise that some of their actions contradicted that perspective, including their conflation of maintenance and access, and their continued focus on parent’s rights instead of children’s. Last, the significant influence of lawyers, friends, extended family and social ideologies may divert the parents away from a child-focused perspective, fuelling their disputes.
Conclusion and Recommendations
In sum, providing bundled intensive interventions based on CPI model successfully facilitated parents experiencing severe conflict to practise child-focused co-parenting in a parallel parenting pattern, even if the counselling needs of some parents remained unmet and some parents still adopt a mind-set prioritising the rights of parents. In response, the following measures are recommended:
• Positioning co-parenting as lifelong education;
• Employing differentiated service packages for parents in diverse situations;
• Advocating the legislation of the Children Proceedings (Parental Responsibility) Bill and the implementation of a more vigorous system to enforce child support in Hong Kong;
• Challenging the fixed differentiation of gender roles and the gendered division of labour
• Adopting a therapeutic, integrative case management service model for parents experiencing severe parental conflict;
• Training support for co-parenting practitioners; and
• Developing appropriate screening instruments and assessment tools to enable timely assessment for the earliest and most appropriate intervention with families.