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Understanding and informing parenting practices in Aceh

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Child malnutrition and stunting remain a continued problem in Indonesia, with the latter particularly serious in Aceh Province. In response to this, IKEA and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) implemented the Parent Education Programme to enhance the health and wellbeing of children in Aceh province with a focus on the role of parenting practices.

OPM was commissioned to conduct formative research to assess the existing knowledge, information, and practices of parents in relation to parenting practices, identify gaps, and outline preferred information sources as identified by parents themselves.

Our research supports implementation of the Parent Education Programme by providing data on:

  1. current parenting practices, beliefs, and norms related to early childhood care;
  2. how current parenting sessions are being delivered by Integrated Service Centers (Pos Pelayanan Terpadu - Posyandu), and Bina Keluarga Balita (BKB), the parenting programme of the Family Planning Board (BKKBN); and
  3. parental methods for acquiring new knowledge, including potential opportunities and barriers to the adoption of positive practices, and how male caregivers can be engaged in parenting sessions.

The challenge:

As a province that implements Syariah Law, role of parents in Aceh is influenced by the understanding of religious teachings. Yet, many parents in Aceh, especially the fathers, are found to have little or no understanding of Islamic teachings, particularly on the role of fathers in parenting children. Parenting in Aceh is mostly the mothers’ responsibility with very limited support from fathers. Since mothers are also involved in earning additional income and performing routine domestic household chores, they experience limitations in gaining new knowledge on childcare and consequently, rely on local tradition to take care of their babies. A such, some Acehnese families follow customs that may negatively impact child development; beliefs and practices around nutrition, breastfeeding, vaccination, hygiene, and disciplining children are found to be misaligned with global and evidence-based standards for optimal child development.

Based on this appraisal, IKEA/UNICEF implemented the parent education programme to nurture parents’ understanding on the best practices to care for young children. OPM’s assignment provides data to support the programme going beyond documentation of relevant practices and interventions. This assignment also provides evidence-based recommendations for effective strategies to support UNICEF’s programme towards strengthening the delivery of parenting sessions in Posyandu in selected districts of Aceh province.

Our approach

Our study adopted a qualitative approach to data collection and analysis by using structured interviews, behaviour-centred design data collection tools, site observation, and participant observation (observing everyday life of the parents of young children).

The formative research was conducted in six villages across two sampled districts: Simeulue and Aceh Jaya. The research participants included posyandu and BKB professionals, pregnant women, parents, grandmothers, non-parent carers, village and religious leaders, midwives, and relevant government officials.

Our approach is explained in four phases:

  1. Inception – this phase included development of work plan, methodology, research questions, and desk review of existing parenting curriculum.
  2. Formative research fieldwork – this phase resulted in development of research tools, training of field researchers, data collection, presentation of preliminary results, data analysis to identify gaps in existing curriculum and supporting materials, and provision of recommendations.
  3. Development of curriculum – Findings from previous phases were used to improve content and design of learning materials. This included main parenting curriculum as well as improvement to the Training of Trainers (ToT) and Operational Guidance manuals.
  4. Capacity building and refinement of curriculum – The final phase ensured local partners, such as posyandu, have the confidence to deliver curriculum to parents. Trainings were conducted in selected districts to gain inputs to improve learning materials, before they are trialed with actual parents and expecting parents.

Outcomes and wider impacts

Some of the key prevalent issues identified from formative research was that most parents’ knowledge is deeply rooted in tradition with low or no awareness on aspects like the need to have variety of staple foods (i.e. not dependent on rice) and the importance of vaccine (92% of parents choose not to vaccinate).

Our research also identifies key influencers and sources of information for parents of young children. Fathers are seen as a significant influence on the attitudes and practices impacting the child, acting as role models, and educating them. However, most of the parenting sessions involve only mother, where therefore the role of father can be improved.

These findings were used to develop learning materials to provide training and lessons on parenting and childcare for parents. The curriculum covers topics on breastfeeding practices, nutrition and complimentary feeding, vaccination, and WASH practices. Moreover, the curriculum includes fathers as recipients and adjust the materials to engage with them.

The curriculum received endorsement from the Family Planning Board (BKKBN) and local authorities, including local governments and customary and religious leader organisations. It has been tested in four districts of Aceh province and rolled out by UNICEF for further use.

Areas of expertise