Building Strong Families Study

The purpose of this study is to determine if mothers' locus of control orientations shift toward internality and perceptions of parenting behaviors improvement as a result of a home visitation, parent education program. Locus of control refers to one's beliefs about his or her ability to influence the outcomes of life. Locus of control orientations range from internal, the belief that one can determine his own fate within limits, to external, the belief that he is controlled by forces outside himself (Lefcourt, 1976).

One hundred (100) mothers with children 3 and younger, living in a large, Midwest, urban city participated in the study in 1999. Fifty (50) of the mothers were enrolled in the experimental group through the Building Strong Families (BSF) program and fifty (50) volunteered to participate in the non-equivalent comparison group after being recruited through their participation in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental food and nutrition education program. Data was collected on a pre-test/post-test basis using the following research instruments: The Adult Nowicki-Strickland Internal-External Control Scale (ANSIE), the Parenting Behavior Assessment (PBA) and the Family Record Form (FRF).

Findings indicated that, in fact, participation in BSF was related to significant increases in internal locus of control orientation. When compared to a comparison group receiving no parenting education treatment, the mothers in the experimental group experienced an increase in their internality from the beginning to the end of the BSF program. In general, those women who completed the BSF program were likely to experience shifts in their locus of control orientations in the internal direction. Women in the comparison group, however, experienced no changes in orientation. These findings were statistically significant at the p<.00 level. While the significance of internal locus of control orientations has long been established in the theoretical and empirical literature, this study provides evidence to support that individual orientations are malleable within the context of a parent education program. Given what is known about the importance of internality in relation to parenting, this is a significant finding. Furthermore, if limited resource mothers are learning new ways to think about themselves and their personal sense of power and control as this study suggests, then the potential for these effects to spread beyond parenting and throughout multiple areas of maternal life is tremendous.

In addition, results of this study indicated that participation in BSF was related to significant increases in maternal perceptions of positive parenting behaviors. Mothers who completed the program were more likely to identify themselves as engaging in more frequent and consistent positive parenting practices following the program. Women in the comparison group experienced no differences. These findings were statistically significant at the p<.00 level, as well. Mothers in this study reported positive parenting practices that describe responsive, sensitive, and nurturing parenting styles. As the literature suggests and this research reinforces, these warm, accepting and guiding parenting characteristics are consistently linked with internal orientations (Belsky, 1984; Mondell & Tylers, 1981). That is, internal locus of control orientations are associated with developmentally appropriate, emphatic, and nurturing parent-child interactions.

In conclusion, the results of the study suggest that locus of control orientations and parenting behaviors can be shaped through a home visitation, parent education program. The home visitation literature has been inconsistent in demonstrating positive effects (Black et al., 1994). However, investigators have documented that home visitation programs provide a valuable resource in enhancing social support networks and are a promising strategy to promote healthy parenting (Baker et al., 1999; Black et al., 1994). Also, studies have suggested that it is necessary to have useful relationships within the larger community context in order to develop a healthy locus of control orientation (Swick, 1984). The findings of this research demonstrate with careful optimism that a home visitation, parent education program can influence limited resource, African American mothers living in an urban community towards more internal locus of control orientations and greater feelings of personal power, and more positive perceptions of parenting behaviors.