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Parents Forever™: 2016 in Review

By Emily Becher, Research Associate — Extension Center for Family Development

If you’re new to Extension or Family Development (FD), you might not know that Parents Forever™ is the only FD program that satisfies a state mandate. Minnesota Statute 518.157 gives judges the authority to require parents with contested custody to complete a minimum of eight hours of parent education. And through Parents Forever™, an 8-hour course through Family Resiliency, Extension Center for Family Development provides just that!

This past year was a busy one for Parents Forever™. In 2016, Parents Forever™ (both in person and online) served more than 2,239 Minnesotans, up from 2,164 last year. The majority of our participants came from the online course (73%, n=1,639) with about a quarter coming from our in-person courses (27%, n=600).

Extension programs in Wisconsin and North Dakota also teach a 4-hour version of Parents Forever™. Because their programs are out of state, we have less information about how many people they reach every year with their programming. We do know that in 2016, University of Wisconsin-Extension reached more than 1,700 participants in their coparenting programs and that North Dakota State University Extension Service taught Parents Forever™ in seven counties. For more information about our 2016 impacts and outcomes, please see the 2016 Parents Forever™ Annual Report.

An In-Person Course for Every Minnesotan

We on the Parents Forever™ team passionately believe in the value of face-to-face education, especially when working with sensitive topics like divorce and coparenting. We have in-person programs throughout the state serving fifteen counties. The team eventually wants to have an in-person program accessible to any person who wants it in Minnesota. New programs are always getting started and facilitators are always getting trained. Just recently, a program in Koochiching County got started in International Falls and they held their first class of four participants!

We’re always looking to train new facilitators to deliver Parents Forever™. If you work with any organizations that might want to build capacity and have staff be trained to deliver Parents Forever™ in order to satisfy the state mandate or to add a coparent education component to their program services, please send an email to the Parents Forever™ team at To find out what is needed to start a program in your community, see also Get Trained to Teach Parents Forever™.

The Journey to ‘Evidence-Based’

NREPP "seal"
The last year of Parents Forever™ has been a whirlwind with our efforts to become an evidence-based program. We want to know if the people who completed our in-person Parents Forever™ program have different outcomes 3 months after completion than people who have not taken divorce education. If we can show these outcomes, then Parents Forever™ can be considered for inclusion on the well-respected National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices.

We completed the first two stages of our journey:
  • A study of an in-person program ended in March (our St. Cloud-Stearns County program). 
  • A study of a comparison sample of participants who have not gone through divorce education ended last year (collected through panels recruited through Qualtrics). 
This summer, we are analyzing the data and working on a series of articles using these datasets.

Three Ways to Streamline Evaluation

This past year, we have worked on three different pain points in our evaluation processes.

Asking Digital Platforms to Play Nicely

The first (and most painful) has been how to set up our study of our online program. Initially we thought a study of the online version would be easy compared to evaluating in-person courses. “They’re already online,” we said to each other. “We’ll just give them some online surveys and voilà! We’ll get great data.” Not so much.

Community Program Specialist Kate Welshons and I have learned a lot on our journey to figure out exactly how to integrate the multiple digital platforms involved in gathering data from this online audience. Our issue is that the University registration system (Destiny One Registration System, or DORS), doesn’t play nicely with our online course system (Moodle), and our survey system (Qualtrics) doesn’t integrate well with either of them.

Can't we all just get along?

With the University’s transition from Moodle to Canvas, we do have some hope. Canvas and Qualtrics are both Salt Lake City companies and are what they call in the tech field “highly integrated.” Even so, no integration exists between DORS and Canvas. Extension’s academic technologists are working on the issue as we speak.

Once these technology issues are worked out, we hope to replicate any processes we figure out to study the Parents Forever™ online course with any other online course we want to study in a more rigorous way. More to come!

Comparing Apples to Apples

The second pain point worked out was reconciling the evaluation systems for in-person and online courses. We’ve designed a new streamlined evaluation system so that for the first time since 2012, we will use the same evaluation tool (for the most part) in both our in-person and online courses. This new system will simplify the process for gathering data for the Parents Forever™ annual report, as well as allow us to make direct comparisons between the outcomes of each version of the program, the type of people for whom each format is most effective, and so on.

red apple and green apple side by side

Let our pain in trying to compare apples to apples be a lesson to those of you who are working on parallel versions of an online and an in-person course: Make sure you have as many questions in common between the two evaluations as possible so you can speak about your program as a whole at the end of the year or in a journal article.

Automating Facilitator Check-Ins

The third target of our evaluation tune up may be of particular interest to those working with train-the-trainer programs. We’ve transitioned from asking our in-person facilitators to fill out a fidelity self-reflection form every time they teach, to filling out a facilitator self-reflection form every 3 months. The 3-month facilitator check in is automated through Qualtrics and so I don’t have to think about it. I just sit back and let the data pile up.

For those with some Qualtrics savvy, basically what we did is created four identical survey blocks. The same survey gets sent out each time, but only the first block gets shown in the first quarter, the second block gets shown in the second quarter, etc. This allows each facilitator's data to be “stacked.” So I can view all the facilitator responses as a whole in reports, or I can filter by facilitator or by time period.

For those of you who are not quite as Qualtrics savvy, please get in touch with me ( and I’d be happy to walk you through the details.

Bringing Our Expertise to the Fore

Finally, we’ve redesigned the Parents Forever™website to make it easier for families, professionals, and researchers to navigate. Go check it out! I’m particularly proud of our Research pages and our awesome graphic representation of the Parents Forever™ theory of change.

Parents Forever™ Theory of change graphic
Designed by Emily Becher and Jessica Barnes, communications associate in family development.

I really like the idea of taking a data visualization approach to our evaluation materials like a theory of change and a logic model. I think it can make these materials more user-friendly for people not steeped in the evaluation field. If that describes you, I’d love to know what you think of the graphic!

There’s another reason I’m proud of the Research section. A small group of like-minded research and evaluation folks in the field of coparenting keep asking me for this kind of information. And now I have a place to send them! This is also a place to highlight the research supporting divorce education. Often we say our curriculum is “research informed” — now I can point to one URL with all that research ( for you z linkers out there). Finally, divorce education has been criticized in the research literature as lacking strong foundations in research and theory. This section of the website refutes that criticism.

If you have questions about Parents Forever™, feel free to contact me, Kate Welshons, Ellie McCann, Sharon Powell, or Mary Jo Katras.

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