Factors influencing participation in weekly support groups among women completing an HIV/STD Intervention program
Over the past three decades, the influence and importance of social support has been well documented and the findings have suggested a beneficial effect on stress-related situations, mental and physical health, and social functioning. More recently, small group/skills training behavioral interventions have demonstrated success in changing behaviors which affect the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV among populations at risk for these diseases. Studies of support groups to date have been conducted exclusively in research settings where women are offered financial incentives for participation. Little is known about the willingness of women to participate in ongoing support groups after successfully completing a skills training intervention. The present study examines the factors that may influence participation among women in a weekly support group after completing a structured, six session HIV/STD intervention. Both quantitative and qualitative data are collected from 265 women in the intervention arm of a multi-site randomized controlled behavioral intervention trial. Results reveal that less than a quarter (22%) of women participated in at least one support group. Participation varied significantly by site, ranging from 34% to 15% (p = .008). Participation was also strongly linked to recent use of domestic violence services. Qualitative data indicated that although monetary incentives play some role in the woman's decision to participate, other factors are also important. These include program outreach, support group size, salience of the group content, consistency of group leadership from the intervention to the support group, and use of peer leaders along with professional facilitators. Implications for design of post-intervention support groups programs are discussed.