The Power of Community Interventions in Promoting Parental Involvement

Human Development

  • August 2023
  • Briefing Papers


Parental involvement plays a pivotal role in enhancing the education and wellbeing of children (Abuya et al., 2019; Fan & Chen, 2001; Wilder, 2014). Studies show that a unit increase in parental participation significantly increases students’ numeracy scores by 6 and 15 percentage points and 6 and 12 percentage points in literacy scores (Mahuro & Hungi, 2016). Also, where parents are involved, students report more effort, concentration and interest in learning. They reportedly pursue challenging tasks, persist through academic challenges, and are motivated to participate in literacy activities voluntarily (Gonzalez-DeHass et al., 2005). Studies also recommend that if both parents are involved, the academic gains for their children are likely to be higher (Perriel, 2015). Parental involvement, monitoring and a positive parent-child relationship are also associated with a reduced likelihood of engaging in sexual activity, experiencing sexual violence and engaging in drug and substance use (Kassa et al., 2018; Pilgrim & Blum, 2012). Children who discuss the importance of education and future academic plans with their parents also tend to do better emotionally (Wang & Sheikh-Khalil, 2014).

The problem

Despite the myriad of benefits associated with parental involvement, it remains low in urban informal settlements (Oketch et al., 2012). In a recent APHRC study conducted in two urban informal settlements in Nairobi during the COVID-19 school closures, adolescents reported receiving more learning support from their mothers (85.9%) than fathers (53.8%) (Muhia et al., 2021). The limited involvement is mainly attributed to a need for more understanding of positive parenting strategies. These challenges persist despite the institutionalization of guidelines on parental empowerment and engagement by the Ministry of Education (MoE) through the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD, 2019).


This briefing paper highlights key benefits accrued by parents enrolled in a community-based after-school support program that targeted adolescents and their parents in two urban informal settlements. This after-school support program, also known as the ‘Advancing Learning Outcomes for Transformational Change (A LOT-Change),’ was initiated in 2013 in two urban informal settlements in Nairobi and ran for nine years until 2022. The program reached over 2000 adolescents and their parents during the project duration. The intervention components for adolescents included homework support, mentorship in life skills, exposure visits, motivational talks and service learning. On the other hand, parents enrolled in the program were placed in support groups of 25-30 parents and sensitized on positive parenting. The support groups met monthly during the three-year project duration. In addition to the support group discussions facilitated by trained counselors, a parental counseling manual was also used for reference. Some of the critical topics on positive parenting covered in the manual included understanding oneself, understanding one’s child, parent-child communication, drugs and substance abuse, HIV and AIDS among adolescents and young people, effective parenting, parents’ hopes and dreams for their child, providing psychosocial support for the children, parent-child communication, and parenting in the digital era.


This end-line qualitative study was conducted at the end of 2021 and targeted 126 respondents, including 75 parents, 32 adolescents, six mentors, four counselors, and nine community leaders. The study utilized a mix of focus group discussions (FGD), key informant interviews (KII) and dialogues to gather the qualitative data. All the qualitative data were tape-recorded and transcribed verbatim in English into MS Word. During coding, the themes of interest were generated both inductively and deductively (Boyatzis, 1998; Crabtree & Miller, 1999) and fed into NVivo. The deductive codes were primarily based on the research questions guiding the qualitative study, while the inductive codes were thematic areas that emerged during the coding process.

Study findings

When compared to parents who are not enrolled in the project, those in the intervention felt more motivated to support their children’s education despite the financial challenges instead of resorting to negative coping strategies such as forcing their children to drop out of school and sending them to work in casual jobs in Saudi Arabia. The financial literacy skills gained from the A LOT-Change parental counseling sessions assisted them in managing and utilizing their limited financial resources. Unlike before the program, parents also mentioned that they were also making deliberate follow-ups on their children’s wellbeing and education, such as ensuring that they were attending school and not engaging in truancy.

I have friends whom I consider good friends, but after a couple of months they disappear  and the friendship ends…my mother is always very concerned and she follows up to find out what the problem is…she has taught me not to idle around, she tells me that I am a girl and I should keep myself well, she tells me I have many things to read, like set books, stories on my smartphone, I can attend A LOT-Change sessions. (Dialogues, Girls)

Parents also echoed that since they began attending the parental counseling sessions, the relationship with their children had greatly improved thanks to taking up positive parenting strategies such as steering away from physical punishment as a form of discipline, embracing self-control and using less abusive language when communicating with their children. This was well captured by one of the fathers who pointed out that, “I used to be get angry very fast, and when I entered the house she used to run away, but now I don’t get easily angered am friendly with all children and so even when there is a problem I can get it resolved early enough before it is too late and I don’t even use a cane, but we sit around the table and discuss…I will sit down and discuss in a friendly manner and guide her accordingly,” he said during a focus group discussion.

According to parents and adolescents, having open lines of communication worked well for them since they could easily share issues troubling them and get solutions to the same.

Our communication as parents with the girls has improved as compared to how it was before. These children can now open up especially to me. If she has a problem, she comes and tells me…She follows the steps as they were taught here (ALOT-Change life skills sessions), they were told to be open with their parents, whether one or both of them, and tell their problems. So when mine has a problem she comes face-to-face and tells me what the problem is. (FGD, Fathers)

The A LOT-Change parents were further cited to be more receptive to new ideologies, especially those touching on sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR). As such, they were said to use the gained knowledge to support their children and inform other parents on how best to support their children on SRHR issues.

I would say our parents have changed,  like there is a group we went and were mentored about girls issues, I came and I told my mother and she agreed but her friend was there and she reacted negatively and she told my mother that she is not supposed to allow me to go to such things (sessions), she did not see the importance of us going there, but my mother told her that a child who is exposed to information knows what she is doing…it is better when the child is educated early to know what is good and what is bad. (Dialogues, Girls) 

Moreover, parents in the A LOT-Change project were also said to avoid engaging in social ills such as prostitution, drug and substance abuse, among others rampant in the urban informal settlements due to financial constraints. The resultant effect of engaging in these vices was the neglect of parenting responsibilities, consequently also forcing their children to engage in social ills such as transactional sex to offset their needs. 

Initially, there were parents who used to involve their children in these brewing (of alcohol) activities. If you have that brewing business the child helps you. You see, it is not encouraged. So as they come for training we encourage them to stop involving  children in those businesses (KII, Counselor)

The parental counseling sessions also enhanced parent’s wellbeing as they provided a platform for them to share and learn from each other and thus reassured them that the challenges they were experiencing were not unique to them and hence found positive coping strategies and solutions to the challenge. The sessions also allowed them to seek assistance on other non-parenting issues as a result of the friendships developed such as sharing job opportunities at their workplaces.

The meetings provide an opportunity for parents to talk. You might find that the parent was pressed somewhere and just wanted an avenue to share information and he is given advice on how to handle that situation. On the other hand the parent that doesn’t attend handles the situation very differently, perhaps always fighting, scolding, verbal abuse, fighting in front of children. (FGD, Fathers)

Having attested to the positive changes the project has made in their lives and that of their children, parents felt the need to also make positive changes to the community by passing down the knowledge and skills they had gained to other community members. One of the parents in program illustrated this by sharing that, “Personally I have learned a lot, one time I went home to Muranga and joined my mother’s group and I was teaching them on how they can live with children in that women group, the women were very happy that I taught them how they can live with children and also bring the children close to them and I am very happy, I do not want it to come to an end.” (FGD, Mothers).

Some parents were also said to apply the gained knowledge and skills in assuming leadership positions in the community and positively contributing to community meetings. This is what a community elder in Korogocho had to say about it:

Some parents are engaged in the Nyumba Kumi initiative (community policing initiative) in the community because the leadership skills that they have acquired through the A LOT Change program has spread to the community, so if such parents are called for community leadership meetings they contribute well (KII, Village elder)


This study demonstrates the power of community interventions in enhancing parental involvement. Through the parental counseling sessions, parents were able to learn skills to enable them take up their roles more seriously and find solutions to parenting challenges they were experiencing. The findings illustrate that when parents come together to share and learn from each other, the accrued benefits go beyond parenting. For instance, they can connect and network at a personal level thus enhancing their mental, social and at times economic wellbeing. Whereas the 2019 guidelines on parental empowerment and engagement by Kenya’s Ministry of Education advocate for school-based strategies, community interventions should complement these efforts to reach more parents and maximize the benefits of parent involvement. Further, considering that in most cases parents and caregivers have been shown to either have little understanding of positive parenting strategies or face social-economic challenges that predispose them to poor parental involvement, it is imperative to build their capacity to raise their children in a warm and loving environment.



Research Officer

Nelson Muhia

Nelson Muhia is a Research Officer in the Education and…

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Communications Officer

Charity Waweru-Mwangi

Charity Waweru-Mwangi is a Communications Officer in the Synergy Unit…

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