The impacts of village-based parenting centers on child development will be tested through a cluster-randomized controlled trial. In this trial, 100 villages will be randomly selected and allocated between an intervention group (50 villages) and a control group (50 villages) with no intervention.
Parenting centers will be based in a central location in each village, and all caregivers living in the village with children aged 6-36 months will be invited to visit centers at any time during operating hours. The parenting centers will be based in repurposed office spaces that will be renovated to be child friendly (eg: colorful walls, non-lead-based paint, soft floors).
All parenting centers will include a central playroom, and will be the same size, and have the same types of toys. All parenting center toys will be split into two types: (1) large, “free play” toys such as a small climbing structure, hula hoops, big plastic bouncy balls, a toy drum set, etc.; and (2) smaller toys associated with a week-by-week parenting curriculum (henceforth, “curriculum toys”).
The parenting curriculum that will be used in the parenting centers has been carefully developed according both to child development needs, and to the local environment in rural China. It consists of weekly interactive training courses targeting caregivers of babies aged 6 to 36 months (124 training courses total). Each month consists of activities (involving both caregivers and children) designed to teach caregivers how to interact with their children in ways that stimulate development in four dimensions considered essential by child development experts: a.) cognitive, b.) psychomotor, c.) language, and d.) social-emotional development. This parenting curriculum is fully designed and developed for a rural Chinese population and has already undergone preliminary field testing and evaluation in rural China by NHFPC and the research team.
Each center will have two staff members: a full-time center monitor, and a parenting instructor. The full-time center monitor will be a local villager who manages the center and takes care of day to day maintenance, such as regular disinfecting of the toys, tidying up, ensuring caregiver and child adherence to center rules, etc. The monitor will also run daily reading programs and assist the parenting instructor as needed. The parenting instructor will be a government worker from the township-level Health & Family Planning Commission (Local HFPC). He or she will undergo comprehensive training in child development and in the implementation of the NHFPC parenting curriculum by the Training & Communication Center of the NHFPC. Once a week, the parenting instructor will teach local caregivers the stage-based (age-appropriate) curriculum-based activity of the week. The parenting instructors’ goal is to teach caregivers how to interact with their child in such a way as to foster the child’s motor skills, cognition, language ability, and social-emotional development.