Systematic literature review: Research on Supported Playgroups

Williams, Kate E., Berthelsen, Donna, Nicholson, Jan M., & Viviani, Maria (2015) Systematic literature review: Research on Supported Playgroups. Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia.




This review of research conducted with supported playgroups was prepared for the Queensland Department of Education, Training and Employment (DETE). The report provides a synthesis of the research on the effectiveness of supported playgroups to improve child, parent, and community outcomes and to identify key features of supported playgroups that support effective outcomes.

Supported playgroups are community-based services that provide a low intensity parenting intervention, through regular group sessions for parent-child dyads. Supported playgroups target vulnerable families who may benefit from parenting support. Supported playgroups have common goals to enhance children’s early learning and parental wellbeing.


A search strategy was devised to identify research studies, nationally and internationally, that involved parent-child group programs for families with young children, delivered under the leadership of an employed facilitator. Academic databases and other data sources were explored for studies conducted in the period from 2004 to 2014. Summary descriptions of the research studies were developed; assessment of research methodologies was made; research evidence on the effectiveness of supported playgroups to improve child, parent, and community outcomes was identified; and comparative analyses of the implementation features of supported playgroups were completed.


The search strategy identified 34 research publications, reporting on 29 different programs. Twenty-six of the studies report on research conducted in Australia and eight reported on research conducted in other countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. Three clusters of playgroups were identified: Category 1 - Standard supported playgroups; Category 2 - Mobile playgroups; Category 3 – Supported playgroups with specific interventions.

The research studies identified encompassed experimental and non-experimental research designs. The studies of standard supported playgroups and mobile playgroups were most often qualitative studies and modest in scale, in terms of the number of research participants. Experimental and quasi-experimental research designs characterised the studies identified in the category of supported playgroups with specific interventions. Overall, the research studies that were categorised as supported playgroups with specific interventions provided stronger evidence for effectiveness to improve parental behaviour in ways that are known to support children’s early developmental competence. Qualitative studies, including case studies and ethnographic research, documented important features of program delivery, such as the importance of facilitators’ interpersonal skills to positive experiences for families in the playgroups; as well as the important opportunities that the playgroups afforded to vulnerable families to reduce social isolation.


The potential for supported playgroups to improve a broad range of learning and psychosocial outcomes for children and parents was suggested by many of the research studies. However, the nature of the research designs employed means that it is not possible to conclude that there is strong evidence of the impact of supported playgroups on child, parent, and community outcomes. The qualitative studies did provide rich descriptions about the implementation processes of playgroups and also captured the variability in the delivery of the playgroups in terms of who participated, local contextual factors that impacted on the playgroup experiences, and the nature of the experiences of parents within the playgroups. Research methodologies need to be employed that address the limitations of the studies to date. This would provide more defensible evidence that supported playgroups have an impact over time on outcomes for children, families, and communities. Overall, this area of research remains relatively under-evaluated in terms of rigorous research designs.

The identified research studies point to some promising research directions but do not yet enable strong claims to be made about the effectiveness of the standard playgroup or mobile playgroup models to impact on parenting outcomes. Data collected from interview and survey methodologies clearly identifies that supported playgroups are highly acceptable to families. Given the popularity of supported playgroups to engage families across diverse communities, and the reported high levels of satisfaction and benefits identified within many of the research studies, it is clear that the provision of supported playgroups is fulfilling an important community need by providing support to parents with young children. However, there is a need to strengthen the evidence base that supported playgroups are an effective early parenting intervention that improves outcomes for children, parents, and communities.

Impact and interest:

Citation counts are sourced monthly from Scopus and Web of Science® citation databases.

These databases contain citations from different subsets of available publications and different time periods and thus the citation count from each is usually different. Some works are not in either database and no count is displayed. Scopus includes citations from articles published in 1996 onwards, and Web of Science® generally from 1980 onwards.

Citations counts from the Google Scholar™ indexing service can be viewed at the linked Google Scholar™ search.

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ID Code: 91439
Item Type: Report
Refereed: No
Keywords: playgroups, evidence, literature review, research
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > EDUCATION (130000) > EDUCATION SYSTEMS (130100) > Early Childhood Education (excl. Maori) (130102)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Children & Youth Research Centre
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Current > Schools > School of Early Childhood & Inclusive Education
  • QLD DET/2014001226
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2015 Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 21 Dec 2015 22:52
Last Modified: 21 Dec 2015 22:52

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