Supporting Father Involvement/Parents as Partners:

How it Works

In contrast to current public discussions of father involvement, which assume that men’s family involvement is a matter of having the “right” family values and motivation, the Supporting Father Involvement/Parents as Partners Program is based on an empirically-supported family systems model of the central factors associated with fathers’ family involvement and on a belief that most fathers wish to be positively involved in their children’s lives. On this page we describe some of our central ideas about how the program achieves its goals.

The power of the group

In our years of experience with services for families, we became impressed with the power of groups to create conditions for positive change. The two central aspects of this power;

1) being in a group provides an opportunity for fathers and mothers to share ideas and feelings about what it means to confront the normal, inevitable dilemmas of being partners and raising children together,

2) this exchange of information creates a feeling of normalization — expressed often as “I realized that we weren’t the only ones who were stressed”.

This feeling reduces the tendencies of partners to blame themselves or each other for feeling challenged in times of personal distress or family crises.

The leaders’ role in establishing a positive group process

If we think of types of helping groups on a continuum ranging from open-ended group therapy on one end (in which any topic raised by any member is open for discussion) to psychoeducational training of specific skills on the other (in which the group leader decides on the content), our intervention is located in-between. Clinically trained co-leaders raise topics and present exercises guided by a curriculum through which they encourage partners to examine their own ideas and goals, confide rather than attack or withdraw from each other when they disagree, appreciate what they can expect of children at different stages, and rely on each other and the group for help and support to try more effective problem solving strategies.

The goal of the leaders is to help participants move closer to being the partners and parents they are hoping to be. Although topics are offered by the group leaders from the curriculum, much of the weekly content originates from the parents themselves. We believe that this is why the program has been successful in helping couples from varied economic and ethnic backgrounds (see “publications”). SFI/PasP provides fathers and mothers with a space in which they can be more reflective about themselves and their relationship with each other and their child, which research shows fosters positive behavioral change in parenting.

How a group intervention for parents affects their children

This family-based intervention is attended by parents, not their children. And yet, it consistently shows important positive effects on their children’s behavior and development. Our thoughts about how this happens are based on research findings from systematic studies of SFI/PasP over many years. Providing a safe space for discussion of issues that are rarely discussed productively by mothers and fathers helps to reduce both parents’ personal distress — depression, anxiety, embarrassment and anger. This reduction in distress enables parents to increase their positive communication and reduce destructive communication and violence.

When the relationship between the parents improves, each partner is able to be a warmer, less harsh parent more likely to set appropriate limits for their children. All of these benefits have a positive effect on children’s behavior — in the family, with their peers, and academically.

The need for training of group leaders

We have described an intervention that is structured but flexible, with the goal of providing a safe space in which couples, partners, or fathers can explore central family issues in ways that are relevant to their own lives and concerns. In order to achieve these aims, SFI/PasP group leaders must have prior experience with strengthening family relationships. Further, they must be trained carefully and receive supervision in the first year delivering SFI/PasP.

Training of group leaders and ongoing consultation are provided by the SFI/PasP Development team.

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