The ones that are for people who need to get their kids back from social services focus on non-contact discipline (sending a kid to his room, or taking away TV privileges, instead of whipping him), and ways to care for a kid that reduce frustration, like getting clothes ready the night before, instead of rushing in the morning. There’s also stuff about child development, and what are reasonable expectations for children at different ages, some of which will include nutrition.
There’s question and answer, which uncovers myths that some parents hold: for example, some parents still think you should be very sparing with affection with small children in order not to spoil them. If parents have religious reasons for using corporeal punishment, they may be told to talk to their minister about whether what they are doing is actually appropriate, because few ministers, even “spare the rod” types, think it’s OK to beat a kid until their skin breaks, they have welts, internal bleeding, or broken bones. Frankly, the country is full of parents who spank, but don’t lose their kids to social services, because the “spanking” needed attention in the emergency room, and that will be spelled out.
There may be a little group therapy aspect, where the parents get to talk, and they will be told about “parents anonymous,” a group for parents who feel they may lose control, but don’t want to abuse their kids, that is modeled on 12-step groups.
Honestly, it depends a little on the issues that parents bring to the group, but social services does try to put people together who have children around the same age, so someone with “teenage” issues doesn’t dominate a class where everyone else has toddlers.
Usually, people in the class are a little skeptical of what they hear, but they want their kids back, and are willing to jump through hoops. If they have to tell their kids to write sentences, instead of whacking them for an infraction, they’ll do it.
In my experience, you get two kinds of people: people who had harsh childhoods, but don’t consider themselves abused, and don’t “get” why everyone else thinks what they are doing is so wrong-- you have to explain to them that we know more about child development than we used to, and yes, they did turn out OK (even if they clearly didn’t), but maybe they could have been happier as children, and still turned out OK. The other is people who just aren’t very bright, like borderline retarded, or maybe actually retarded. They have an easier time accepting what they are being told, but a harder time putting it into action. You have to figure out a way to get them a support system. It’s hard for them to plan nutritious meals if they can’t read very well. They might actually need someone to go shopping with them several times until they get in the habit of buying nutritious food.