Open Access Open Badges Research article

Understanding how education/support groups help lone mothers

Ellen L Lipman12*, Meghan Kenny2, Susan Jack3, Ruth Cameron2, Margaret Secord2 and Carolyn Byrne4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University, 1200 Main St. W., Hamilton, Ontario, L8N 3Z5, Canada

2 Offord Centre for Child Studies, Patterson 206, Chedoke Site, 566 Sanatorium Road, Hamilton, Ontario, L9C 1Y3, Canada

3 Department of Nursing, McMaster University, 1200 Main Street West, Hamilton, Ontario, L8N 3Z5, Canada

4 Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, 2000 Simcoe, St. North, Oshawa, Ontario, L1H 7K4, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:4  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-4

Published: 4 January 2010



Lone-mother led families are at increased risk of psychosocial disadvantage, social isolation and mental health morbidity. Community-based programs are more accessible for families seeking assistance. We examine the experiences of eight lone mothers participating in a larger randomized controlled trial (RCT) of a community-based education/support group program using mixed methods.


A purposeful sample of eight mothers participating in the intervention arm of an RCT of community-based support/education groups was selected for the qualitative study. Individual interviews asked mothers about themselves and their relationships with their children before and after the group. Interviews were taped, transcribed and content analysis was used to code and interpret the data. Quantitative data collected in the RCT were used to describe these mothers.


Mothers participating in the RCT and qualitative study experienced multiple difficulties, including financial and mood problems. These mothers reported that before participating in the group, they had shared experiences of social isolation, stigma, a sense of failure, poor relationships with their children and difficulties with financial management. After the group, mothers identified improved self-esteem, support from other mothers, improved parenting skills and improved communication with their children as outcomes of group participation.


The qualitative data revealed mothers' perceptions of specific areas that improved by participating in the group. The utility of complementary information provided by qualitative and quantitative methods in understanding program impact, as well as the need for broader assistance is noted.