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What is the Parents Forever theory of change?

Families face divorce, separation or custody changes in different ways. They also experience different outcomes, depending  on their risk and protective factors.

A theory of change is a type of logic model that clarifies why and how a program like Parents Forever results in improved outcomes.

Parents Forever Theory of Change infographic

There is also an  alternative text description of the infographic. 

Parents Forever seeks to improve resiliency by:

  • Reducing individual and family-level risk factors.

  • Increasing individual and family-level protective factors.

Parents Forever affects change through three primary channels:

  • Parental well-being.

  • Parent-child relationships.

  • Coparenting relationships.

Find out more about how these three channels are impacted and how they affect child and family well-being.

Parental wellbeing

Just as children are impacted both positively and negatively by family transitions, adults are too. A central tenet of the Parents Forever program is that parental well-being matters.

Parents who possess greater resilience during and after the divorce and separation process can draw on a greater wealth of emotional, psychological and material resources as they parent and coparent their children. Greater resources to draw from increases the likelihood of:

  • Successful and effective parenting.

  • Successful and effective coparenting.

  • Better outcomes for children and families.

It is not enough to focus on parental well-being as a pathway to child well-being. Parental well-being should be addressed in its own right. Stronger parents make stronger communities. Through this emphasis, we further the Extension mission of “ensuring Minnesota communities are strong.”

Following are some examples of research on the effects of divorce, separation, or custody change on parent well-being.


Parent-child relationships

Divorce, separation and custody change can affect the relationships parents have with their children.

Sometimes these impacts reflect coparenting agreements. For example:

  • When parents have joint physical custody, they may be caring for their children alone for the first time in their lives.

  • Coparenting agreement may limit the amount of face-to-face contact they have with their child. This could impact their parent-child relationship.

The parent-child relationship is one of the key ingredients to helping children successfully manage a family transition. Positive parent-child relationships are considered protective factors for children through a variety of life stresses. They are extremely important to children’s healthy development.

Following are some examples of research on the effects of divorce, separation, or custody change on parent-child relationships.


Coparenting relationships

Coparenting typically refers to the relationship between primary caregivers of a child (often parents). It can be expanded to include any adult figure with legal, financial, and emotional responsibility for child-rearing. Coparenting may look differently given different family circumstances. It can span from being extremely engaged and collaborative, to being more distant and businesslike relationships.

The research in this area has grown extensively over the past 20 years. What we now know is that the coparenting relationship is a unique and powerful contributor to child and family well-being. While healthy coparenting is clearly a positive for children, there is a word of caution. It is important to only encourage such relationships when it is safe to do so. In family contexts of domestic violence, coparenting should not be encouraged until it is clear that it is safe and recommended for everyone involved.

Following are some examples of research on the effects of coparenting relationships on child and family well-being.


Emily Becher, research associate

Reviewed in 2022

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