ParentText Optimisation and Evaluation in South Africa

About this project

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  South Africa
  April 2022 - December 2024
Principal Investigators Dr Hlengiwe Sacolo (University of Cape Town, South Africa) and Dr Jamie Lachman, (University of Oxford)
Co-Investigators Professor Frances Gardner and Moa Schafer (University of Oxford) , Professor Catherine Ward (University of Cape Town), Dr David Stern (IDEMS)
Partners Clowns Without Borders South Africa (CWBSA); South African Department of Social Development (DSD); UNICEF South Africa; Mothers2Mothers


Pragmatic randomised factorial trial to optimise ParentText effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, and engagement when embedded within a child welfare system and education system. Parents and caregivers across a range of developmental stages will be enrolled.


Research has found that in-person playful parenting programmes delivered in low- and middle-income countries, such as the Parenting for Lifelong Health (PLH) programmes, may be effective at increasing positive parenting, child development, and child wellbeing while decreasing violence against children, intimate partner violence, and parent/child mental health problems. There is also emerging evidence that digital and remotely delivered parenting programmes may be effective at achieving similar effects with greater potential for scalability. However, this evidence is primarily limited to high-income countries where access to web-based programmes is much higher than families living in low-resource settings. This study builds on a pilot study funded by the LEGO Foundation of ParentText in South Africa.


This study aims to optimise the engagement, effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness of the ParentText programme embedded within an existing service delivery system such as the child welfare system.

  1. To optimise recruitment and engagement in ParentText, including examining different external strategies to maximise user participation
  2. To determine the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of ParentText on playful parenting, learning through play, and violence prevention in a real-world setting
  3. To examine the implementation (including male engagement) of ParentText within existing public sector digital information dissemination platforms

Study Setting

The study will take place in Mpumalanga, South Africa in collaboration with UNICEF, SA Government, and NGO partners.

Study Significance and Impact

This study will be the first to rigorously optimise and evaluate the effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, and scalability of a parenting programme delivered via a chatbot in a low- and middle-income country. Findings will inform the wider dissemination and scale-up of Parenting for Lifelong Health human-digital programmes, and more specifically (and immediately) the ongoing and forthcoming delivery of ParentText in multiple countries, including Cambodia, Jamaica, Malaysia, Mexico, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Viet Nam.