Supporting Father Involvement

The Father’s Family Role: Supporting Father Involvement
a practice and research intervention

The default family paradigm that still prevails in most social service settings typically focuses on the family as “a mother and her children.” This emphasis tends to relegate fathers to a diminished role, marginalizing their potential and their importance. We invite you to learn about The Supporting Father Involvement program, a clinical and research intervention by the team of Drs. Philip A. Cowan, Carolyn Pape Cowan, Marsha Kline Pruett, and Kyle D. Pruett, MD. A statewide dissemination effort of SFI in California was conducted with the support of Strategies, and international replications are underway in Alberta, Canada and London and other cities of the U.K.

The first five years are a particularly critical time to develop healthy patterns and family interactions, but, historically, family resource centers and programs have leaned away from pro-actively involving fathers. From home visits to parenting classes, the majority of programs cater primarily to mothers, due to the mistaken belief that mothers are the sole pathway to children’s development and well-being.

This research and intervention represents the first randomized, controlled clinical trial focused on father involvement in low-and middle-income families. The study -which has enrolled over 800 families – compared father-only and father-mother interventions with each other and against a control group, and evaluated the impacts on the parents, families, and children. Five family life domains are addressed in the curriculum and in the assessment of outcome: the well-being of the individual parents, the quality of the relationship between the parents and in the family of origin relationships, parenting styles, and outside stresses and social supports (e.g., employment).

The research confirms that when fathers become more involved in parenting – and in working with mothers as co-parents and partners – healthier parents, children, and families are the outcome. Parents participating in groups experience reduced stress and anxiety, are more satisfied with their relationship, and employ less harsh discipline. Couples groups are more effective than groups made up only of fathers. While children of parents in the control group get more anxious and aggressive over time, children of parents in fathers groups and couples groups do not increase their problem behavior over the same period. Moreover, SFI results reveal that agencies that serve families can become more father friendly, thus creating organizational/institutional/community change as well as family change.