Strengthening Evaluation Strategies for Divorcing Family Support Services: Perspectives of Parent Educators, Mediators, Attorneys, and Judges

Article excerpt

Strengthening Evaluation Strategies for Divorcing Family

Support Services: Perspectives of Parent Educators, Mediators,

Attorneys, and Judges*

Mediation and parent education are increasingly common support services provided to divorcing families. Although there is accumu

lating evaluation evidence, important questions remain. In this study we surveyed mediators, parent educators, attorneys. and judges

in one state to identify the types of evidence that may be useful in further evaluation efforts and to obtain their professional judgements

regarding the effectiveness of these programs. Most programs only obtain minimal evaluation, but professionals had helpful ideas

about types of evidence that would be helpful. Judges, parent educators and mediators perceived the programs as more useful and

effective than attorneys. Results are discussed in terms of ways to strengthen evaluation efforts of mediation and parent education

programs for divorcing families.

Key Words: divorce, evaluation, parent education, prevention programs.

Separation and divorce have become normative life events for many families in the United States. Despite some recent indications that the rate of divorce may be leveling off, Martin and Bumpass (1989) estimated that about two-thirds of all first marriages are likely to be disrupted by separation or divorce. Each year, it is estimated that over 1 million children experience parental divorce (U.S, National Center for Health Statistics, 1991), and it is estimated that 40% of the current generation of children will experience the divorce of their parents before they are 18 years of age (Glick, 1988).

Researchers over the past two decades have documented that both parents and children who experience family disruptions due to divorce are at risk of experiencing problems with health and well-being. In the short-term parents are likely to experience strong feelings of anger, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and implusivity (Hetherington, 1989, 1993). Several years following divorce both residential and nonresidential parents are more at-risk of experiencing psychological disorders (Chase-Lansdale & Hetherington, 1990). Both divorced men and women are more likely to have higher rates of illness than adults in other family groups. Nonresidential fathers engage in more health compromising behaviors, such as alcohol consumption (Umberson & Williams, 1993), and are over represented among suicides and homicides (Bloom, Asher, & White, 1978).

Parental divorce can have negative effects on children. Investigators have found that children whose parents have divorced are likely to have elevated levels of aggression, poor academic performance, and more difficulties getting along with peers (Amato & Keith, 1991; Hetherington, 1989). Sandler, Wolchik, MacKinnon, Ayers, and Roosa (1997) recently calculated the risk associated with divorce for children and suggest that almost 22% of conduct problems in children are related to parental divorce. Additionally, there is evidence that children of divorce are over represented in treatment settings (Zill, 1983). In a longitudinal study of a representative sample of children, Zill, Morrison, and Coiro (1993) reported that the effects of divorce persist into adulthood. They found that adults who had experienced the divorce of their parents 12 to 22 years ago had poor relationships with their parents, high levels of problem behavior, and an increased likelihood of dropping out of high school and receiving psychological help.

Support Services,for Families Experiencing Divorce

Given the prevalence of divorce and the potential for adjustment problems among children and adults, professionals have developed support services for these families. In the early 1980s mediation was introduced as a way to resolve custody and visitation disputes among parents seeking a divorce. …