The Supporting Father Involvement program entails a) a 32-hour curriculum, typically led over 16 weeks (either for fathers only or for couples) by two experienced clinicians, b) case management, and c) organizational change efforts designed for agencies serving primarily low-income families. Program staff at each site include a project director, group leaders, and case managers.
The SFI curriculum includes activities, discussions, short presentations, and open-ended time for participants to raise immediate concerns from their own lives for group discussion and problem solving. Often, multiple versions of an activity are available for group leaders to choose from, thereby allowing leaders to meet the unique characteristics of that particular group while maintaining common agendas and group goals that are based on the aspects of family life to be addressed each session. The curriculum is designed to ensure that issues relevant to each of the five family domains are covered over the 16 weeks of meetings.
An important element of the SFI program curriculum is that group leaders do not prescribe specific behaviors for men and women as partners or as parents. Instead, they offer a group environment in which partners can explore their own ideas, goals, and ways of relating to each other based on their own culture and values. The program has now been used successfully with families from a range of economic circumstances and ethnic backgrounds – in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.
Week 1 The Individual: identifying one’s self-concept, vulnerabilities, and personal goals for change
Week 2 Parent-Child Relationships: understanding that involved fathers are important to their children’s development and health, and the importance of mothers’ supporting fathers in their parenting
Week 3 The Couple/Coparents: identifying and strengthening positive qualities of the couple/co-parenting relationship
Week 4 Parent-Child Relationships: reviewing effective parenting skills and strategies
Week 5 Parent-Child Relationships: dedicated time for fathers to interact with their youngest child, and for mothers to interact together
Week 6 The Couple/Coparents: recognizing and understanding couple conflict and domestic violence, child effects of witnessing intimate partner violence
Week 7 Three Generations: understanding and interrupting three-generational transmission of ineffective parenting styles and discipline, myths and facts about child abuse
Week 8 Outside The Family: fathers’ rights and responsibilities regarding child support OR focus on general stresses from outside the family
Week 9 The Couple/Coparents: reviewing problem solving skills and identifying communication styles
Week 10 The Couple/Coparents: continuation of Week 9 — understanding body language and identifying some typical differences in parenting styles of mothers and fathers
Week 11 The Couple/Coparents: “spillover” of stresses from work to family and family to work; identifying ways of responding to and handling stress as individuals and coparents; drug use and sexual health also discussed
Week 12 Three Generations: recognizing, setting, and maintaining appropriate boundaries with parents and in-laws (the grandparents and extended family)
Week 13 Parent-Child Relationships: dedicated time for fathers to interact with their youngest child, and for mothers to interact together
Week 14 Outside The Family: discussing the satisfaction and stress of being an economic provider and identifying effective ways to deal with community agencies, making a family budget
Week 15 The Individual: recognizing and coping with depression; strengthening self-esteem
Week 16 Tying Together Five Domains: wrap-up and integration of skills to solidify gains and plan for the future
Sample of Session Content for SFI Program Curriculum
Week 5 – Parent-Child Relationships
Fathers attend the fathers’ group with youngest child, led by the male co-leader; Mothers attend mothers’ group, led by the female co-leader.
Each Group Leader leads one of the groups. Case managers join fathers’ group as additional resource for assistance and 1:1 teaching opportunities.
FOCUS: PARENT-CHILD RELATIONSHIPS
THEME: Time for fathers with their children and mothers together on their own
- Knowing your child and doing activities with him/her is good for children and for fathers.
- Mothers often have influence over fathers’ relationships with their children; the women’s support of the groups is important for all family members’ sense of closeness.
Agenda For Fathers/Kids Groups (Agenda for Mothers/Womens Group not included):
AGENDA FOR FATHERS ALONE (NO CHILDREN OR PARTNERS PRESENT)
1 CHECK-IN 30 MIN
Ask fathers to share something special about their child with the group—what stage is the child at now (learning to eat with a spoon, to walk, to sleep through the night, to throw a ball, and so on), or say what they like to do together. If fathers do not have contact with their child, they may share what they imagine their child to be like now.
2 OPENING UP 30 MIN
Ask fathers to talk about how they are feeling as parents and co-parents since joining the group. What have they noticed about themselves and their relationships with their children and the child’s mother? What is changing and what do they wish they could change more?
Alternative Discussion Topic:
Each father shares one thing he has noticed that he learned in his own (birth) family that he has brought into his current family and is worried or unhappy about.
3 ACTIVITY- PARENTING JEOPARDY 50 MIN
Group leaders write additional questions on the blank cards that are relevant to their group members. Fathers are told that they are going to play parenting jeopardy. Each father should select the “value” (e.g., $10, $20, $30, $40 or $50) of the question he will answer. Questions become more challenging as value increases. Fathers continue selecting and answering questions until there is a winner. Group Leaders decide if the winner will be the father who answered the most questions correctly or the father who ends the game with the most “money.” If there is time, Ask: How are these ways of winning different but equally important? Group leaders may choose to give the winning father(s) a small prize.
4 WRAP-UP AND HOMEWORK 10 MIN
- What activities could you do with your child this week to be close to him/her?
- What’s one new thing you’re going to try as a parent? • What was useful about tonight? • What else would you like to talk about some more?
Plan an activity that you would like to try with your child this week.
AGENDA FOR FATHERS/KIDS GROUPS
1 OPENING 30 MIN
Ask fathers to introduce their child and say something special about him/her, what stage the child is at now (learning to eat with a spoon, to walk, to sleep through the night, to throw a ball, and so on), or say what they like to do together.
2 ACTIVITIES 30 MIN
(The following activities should be divided between Weeks 5 and 13. GL may choose how best to do this, based in part on the group composition i.e., age of the child).
Dads blow up big colorful balloons. On the signal each dad and child pair tries to keep the balloon in the air with only their feet. A winner is determined when the last team has its balloon in the air. (Alternative: On the signal, all dads and kids as a group try to keep the balloons in the air using any parts of their bodies.)
Sit in a circle facing in with all the balloons on the floor inside the circle. On the signal the dads make the balloons “erupt” and make rumbling volcano sounds while the kids try to keep the balloons in the volcano.
Hold their kids and follow the group leader’s commands of “ascend” and “descend”, “turn left” and “turn right”, “nosedive” and “loopty loop”, and so on.
Dads take turns reading Frog Stories (by Mercer Mayer) aloud to the kids, which are in pictures only and are especially good for younger children and fathers who cannot read or feel uncomfortable doing so.
3 ACTIVITY – HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW YOUR CHILD? 1 HOUR
This activity begins with one-on-one time between fathers and kids. Fathers choose four of the following questions to ask their child. They can choose based on the child’s age and what they would like to know about their child that they do not know now. Together (taking into account the age of the child) they draw the child’s answers to the father’s questions. Fathers and children then share the drawings with the group.
Ask dads with infants to create and demonstrate a special signature flip or game with their child, or create or demonstrate a game they like to play together
Questions for Discussion:
- What is your favorite food?
- What thing in your home/room do you prize most?
- Who is your closest friend?
- What causes you stress?
- What have you done that you are most proud of?
- What made you feel discouraged or bummed out this past year?
- What would you like to be when you grow up?
- What is something that really upsets you?
- What do you like to do with me?
- What are your favorite games/toys to play?
- What are your favorite things to do before bed at night? Are they the same with your mother and me?
- What are your favorite things to do at school/day care?
- What do you most dislike my saying “no” to you about?
4 WRAP-UP 10 MIN
Every time parents and kids are together, they usually learn something new that brings them closer, and helps them to understand each other better. Such learning opportunities are “Sunshine on a rainy day.” (Have group explain what this means in terms of parent-child relationships).
- How did you like being here together?
- What did you like best about it?
- What’s one new thing you learned about your child?
If children are old enough, ask them what they liked best about this time.
Week 10 – Focus: The Couple
THEME: Problem solving and communication
- People often communicate their feelings indirectly through body language.
- Direct and open communication is most effective.
- Men and women express their feelings differently.
- Open check-in and check-in regarding last week’s homework 20 MIN
- Teaching Segment 20 MIN
Body language is an important part of how people communicate with each other. How you sit, stand, hold your arms, turn your body, make faces, etc. tells the other person a lot about how you’re feeling. If you are speaking angrily, and you have your arms crossed and your body turned slightly away from your partner, he or she gets the idea you are in no mood to be understanding. Sometimes your body language is out of whack with your words: You say, “I’m not angry” but you turn away from your partner and say something under your breath. That can be really confusing, because your partner tries to figure out whether to respond to your words or the other message your body is giving her. Getting confused can turn into anger: “Why is he saying one thing and acting another?”
Go over handout: Positive Approaches to Communication
Group leaders may choose to role play or review aloud the content in the handout Positive Approaches to Communication. Encourage fathers to add to the lists from their own experience.
Group leaders demonstrate different kinds of body language. Have group members identify what different forms of body language suggest: anger, sadness, happiness, desire to make-up after a fight, and desire to talk about something difficult. Have them include examples of posture, eyes and mouth, arms, tone of voice, and closeness or distance maintained.
3 DISCUSSION 40 MIN
Fathers discuss either (A) a problem that occurred this week with their partner/ co-parent (i.e., a time when things did not go well), or (B) an example of a time over the past week when he handled a problem better. Refer back to the IDEAL Problem Solving Method and Communicating Well handouts introduced last week and help fathers identify the factors that made things go well or not so well.
Note: Some fathers may not have seen their child’s mother over the past week. These fathers can discuss an old problem they had with their child’s mother or something they anticipate being a problem in the future. As a last resort, discuss a problem they had or are having with a new girlfriend.
4 ACTIVITY 30 MIN
Group divides into two or three smaller groups (divide groups by gender if mothers are present. If mothers are not present, have one group answer from a male’s perspective and the other from a female’s). Each group discusses answers to the following question:
“How do men (women) express feelings, talk about what they want, and get their needs met?”
Each group’s answers are then shared with the larger group. Group Leaders underscore consistencies and differences across genders.
How do men and women differ in their views?
Do they want the same things? If not, why might they see the world differently, especially when they are new parents?
What did you learn tonight that will help you to get along better with your partner/co-parent/child’s mother or respond more positively to her?
5 WRAP-UP AND HOMEWORK 10 MINUTE
Homework for fathers with partners: Try non-sexual ways of touching your partner/spouse (handout in session materials). You can agree to touch each other 5 times per day for several days. The touch can include any behaviors you can dream up. Refer to homework activity instructions in session materials for more structured directions.
Homework for fathers with no partners: Try using a “door opener” to start a positive conversation with your co-parent/child’s mother. You may use a “door opener” over text or online, if you don’t see her in-person. You might suggest arranging a time to talk with her about what you want as the child’s father who is interested in being part of his/her life.
Implementing the SFI Program in Your Agency
We would like to share the Program with other child/family-service agencies while encouraging program fidelity so that the program can remain effective as it is implemented in various locales and with new populations. Because this program was created with the support of federal and state funds, we do not charge for the use of the program. We do, however, charge for training group leaders and case managers, and conducting follow-up support as the trainees conduct their first groups
The Agency and Staff SFI Readiness Training includes:
- A one-day orientation to the SFI program that covers:
- The importance of father involvement and how fathers parent differently from mothers
- Assessing your agency’s father-friendliness using an adaptation of the Father Friendliness Organizational Self Assessment (OSA)
- Integrating agency and individual practices to increase father involvement in individual agencies
- An introduction to (and copy of) the SFI curriculum
- Two additional days of staff training and technical assistance on implementing the SFI curriculum for fathers and/or couples and on offering case management for the SFI Training is provided to project directors, case managers, and group leaders concurrently.
$2,000 per day per trainer (2 trainers required)
After the initial training, further technical assistance can be obtained from one of the four SFI program developers for $200/hour.