According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 10-20% of children and adolescents experience mental disorders worldwide and half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 14. These numbers resonate whether you are in the United States (1 in 6 U.S. children aged 2–8 years had a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder) or Australia where 1 in 7 children are estimated to have a mental health disorder. These challenges can impact how children perform at school, how they get on with others and how they feel about themselves.

Parents play a crucial role in their children's mental health. However, many parents do not seek support when their children are having mental health problems. That is due to lengthy waiting times in the public health care system, the private system being costly, getting support has been too time-consuming, especially for families who live in remote areas and have to travel to appointments. Also, there is the fact they worry that if they do seek support, they may be judged as "bad" parents.

To overcome this real challenge, we have developed a skill using Amazon Alexa that delivers coaching and learning using an evidence-based communication approach called Emotion Coaching that supports parents to guide their child's emotional development. The Alexa skill will support parents that can't or won’t attend traditional in-person parenting programs so they can learn and practice in the privacy of their homes.

We acknowledge the importance of a safe and healthy home environment for families to raise their children. That is why we are also using the voice interactions and Amazon Pay integration for asking users for donations that can support non-profit organisations to provide their diverse range of programs for families such as foster care, therapeutic programs and family violence.

What it does

The Alexa skill helps teach parents a simple, evidence-based, communication approach called Emotion Coaching that they can apply to support their child's mental health. Parents learn the technique through the skill which is easy to interact with, is judgment-free, low cost, and can be accessed at anytime and anywhere.

It has a number of activities developed from the principles of emotion coaching including (i) exploring the steps of emotion coaching and it's benefits to (ii) children's behaviours, (iii) explaining the differences between a common misguided approach of dismissive parenting with a better approach in emotion coaching, a (iv) quiz to reinforce learning and a (v) guided interaction (featured) activity that allows parents to practice and get real time feedback and advice based on how they respond.

Finally, we track usage in DynamoDB including:

  • track how long users spent in each session
  • each time users engaged in an activity and how far they went through the activity This is to see whether our skill is engaging enough for parents to keep using and to find out what activities resonate and parents find valuable.

Challenges I ran into

The challenge was to develop activities that went beyond one-way interaction and passive content delivery. Emotion coaching is a well-established approach that is proven to benefit parents and their children. We developed the guided interaction (highlighted in the submitted video) that takes parents through an actual scenario, provide suggestions on what they could say and then let parents practice what to say. Alexa would then provide feedback/guidance based on a simple analysis of what they do say, specificall on included emotion-type words to label emotions and express empathy.

Amazon Pay was also a challenge to integrate. However, it was implemented successfully by allowing users to donate $5 USD after our featured activity, if they wish.

Accomplishments that I'm proud of

We've built a solid foundation to launch a voice experience that can truly help parents and their children and non-profit organisations with a easy, low friction way to raise funds through donation. A solution that is scalable and can help non-profits deliver an alternative (to person-delivered) program on a platform that is expanding rapidly to overcome barriers mentioned previously.

We know that half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 14, so if we can intervene early by getting parents to use our skill to learn emotion coaching, we hope to contribute to some societal impact. It is a challenging time in our world and we’ve seen increased family violence and we want to help in any way. We believe by providing a digital program that parents can access in the privacy of their own homes, free from feeling judged, we can contribute to teaching useful tools that will help in their day to day interactions with their child.

And to make it easier for those who can afford it to donate seamlessly.

What I learned

A sense of purpose and contribution can drive people to great things. I believe this skill can be great for non-profits and demonstrate to them the potential of digital engagement in emerging platforms. I also learnt in the power of community and the help we received from the Dev Post and AWS team were top notch.

What's next for Parent Coaching Program

We are conducting user interviews with parents to develop further a minimum viable product (MVP) for the Alexa Skill and planning a University research study with psychologists and parents to study the feasibility of voice assistants in a parenting program. We also want to explore how we can using machine learning to make the real-time feedback during the guided interaction as helpful and accurate as possible.

Talk to non-profits organisations to get an understanding of different services to customise the skill to their specific program offering and deliver it on voice.

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