Although financial incentives are a well-accepted strategy for raising parent participation rates in prevention studies, they are rarely employed in practice due to concerns about their ethics, sustainability, and public acceptability. We sought to address these common concerns in the context of a larger prevention study using financial incentives to boost parent participation in a group-based parenting program implemented in an urban school district. We examined the extent to which the financial incentives delivered via bank debit cards ($15 for attending weekly group sessions, $5 for completing weekly practice assignments) motivated parents to enroll in the program and were associated with higher attendance and practice completion but poorer participation quality in group sessions, and how parents used the extra cash. Over 3 years, 67.4% (n = 372) of eligible families enrolled in a parenting program called the Chicago Parent Program. Most parents were African American (68%) or Latinx (24%); 67% reported annual household incomes < $20,000. Although 71.2% of parents reported that the financial incentives motivated their enrollment, the most important motivators pertained to wanting to be a better parent. Parents citing incentives as motivating their enrollment had higher attendance than those who did not (p = .01). Quality of parent participation was high and unrelated to whether financial incentives motivated enrollment. Parents reported using the extra cash to purchase items for their children (92%) and groceries (56%). Results suggest that financial incentives targeting low-income families of young children may improve parent participation rates without diminishing their intrinsic motivation to improve their parenting.
Keywords: Chicago Parent Program; Early childhood; Financial incentives; Low-income families; Parenting.