Supporting Father Involvement/Parents as Partners:
The Supporting Father Involvement/Parents as Partners program can be implemented face-to-face or online. Either program entails a) a 32-hour curriculum, typically led over 16 weeks (either for couples/co-parents or for fathers) by two experienced clinicians/group facilitators, b) case management, c) childcare during the groups, and d) 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. Childcare is typically provided by staff of the agency providing the program, but it could also involve one trained childcare person and other students or temporary hires.
There is a supplementary program manual for the online version that provides detailed instructions about how best to implement the program when face-to-face meeting is not possible or desirable.
Program Components: Overview
The program comprises a series of components designed to maximize opportunities for engagement, commitment to the program, understanding the underlying concepts, and parents’ growth. Below is a list of components in the order they are introduced:
- Case Manager(CM) Outreach: During the recruiting phase, family members speak with a CM about the program. Each partner is contacted so that all participants are brought into the program early on and their welcome and importance are emphasized.
- Introductory Interview: Each participant meets with the group leaders for an interview that covers five family domains that will be addressed in the curriculum.
- individual characteristics and well-being of the parents
- parent-child relationship quality
- couple or co-parenting relationship quality
- the intergenerational transmission of parent-child involvement and family relationships
- external influences such as employment, environmental stressors, and social supports.
Participants learn what the group will feel like and what will be covered. Group leaders are given information about what the parents’ backgrounds and histories are so that these may be considered in group activities going forward. Each partner is also briefly interviewed separately during that first interview so that the presence of domestic violence and safety can be assessed; if it is deemed unsafe for a couple to participate together, they are referred to other services.
- Program Evaluation Begins: If evaluation of the groups is included, the CMs walk participants through a questionnaire design to assess each of the five domains before and after the full intervention program.
- Eating Together: Each meeting begins with a snack or meal, which the whole family is invited to attend. This engages all family members and gives program staff the opportunity to meet and know the children who will be discussed during the program sessions. Feedback between the childcare staff and group leaders also facilitates support to the family for any cognitive, behavioral, or educational issues negatively affecting the child.
- Group Intervention: The group intervention and case management begins its 32 hour course.
- Organizational Father-Friendliness Assessment: Before, during, and after the program, the agency implementing the program is supported in looking closely at their own agency to evaluate the degree of father/family-friendliness in its procedures, policies, and practices.
- Program Evaluation Continues: At the end of the group or after a specified amount of time – or both – the program evaluation of any changes in the five family domains is repeated.
Program Components: The Group Intervention
The SFI/PasP program was designed for couples/parenting partners meeting in groups but it can be adapted to a fathers group format. Four to six couples/co-parents or eight to ten fathers who are raising at least one young child together meet weekly, although larger groups have been used and reported effectiveness and satisfied parents. The groups meet for 32 hours, typically for 16 2-hour weekly sessions. Some groups have introduced scheduling variations that include one full day, then 10 weekly sessions, ending with another full day; or 11 weeks of longer sessions.
Each week couples/co-parenting partners or fathers meet together. In the couples groups, mothers and fathers meet separately in two of the weeks; fathers meet with the male co-leader and bring their youngest child for a play session, to highlight the men’s parenting without the women present. At the same time, mothers/parenting partners meet with the female co-leader to share their experience of encouraging fathers’ parenting while honoring their own parenting ideas.
Group leaders are male-female teams, with at least one of them having clinical training in the equivalent of Master’s level education or beyond and/or experience in counseling or running psychoeducational groups for individuals, couples, or families.
After the first introductory meeting with the parents, co-leaders begin each subsequent session with a half-hour check-in during which couples are invited to bring issues that arose during the week or as they tried to do any “homework” suggested at the end of the previous session. The remaining time in each two-hour session focuses on a topic related to one of the five family domains, and combines a short teaching segment with interactive and skill building time. Participants engage in discussions and activities that invite them to reflect on their current behaviors and practices, understand what is working or not working for them, and collaborate with their parenting partner (in the group or outside of it for fathers only groups) to create the positive changes they are seeking.
The curriculum moves between the domains: individual, couple/co-parenting, parenting, intergenerational, and recognizing stress and building social supports, with each week building upon the previous ones. The groups are not prescriptive; parents are supported in applying the knowledge they gain and the social support they develop within the group to their own situation, deciding what they want to change and how they think it best to do so.
Note that in each session, group leaders are given a few choices of activities with the same goal and objective, so they can choose which one is most appropriate for the particular group. Once they are familiar with the curriculum, they also are invited to adapt our activities or introduce their own in order to best reach the goal of the session.
The Curriculum Content Overview
The Individual: identifying one’s sense of self as a parent and partner/co-parent, vulnerabilities, and personal goals for change
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
The Couple/Co-parenting Partners: identifying and strengthening positive qualities of the couple/co-parenting relationship
Parent-Child Relationships: reviewing effective parenting skills and strategies and discussing what one can expect from a child at different ages and stages
Parent-Child Relationships: dedicated time for fathers to interact with their youngest child, and for mothers to interact together (this occurs twice in the curriculum)
The Couple/Coparenting Partners: recognizing and understanding couple conflict and domestic violence, and the effects on children of witnessing intimate partner violence (child abuse is similarly handled in another session)
Three Generations: understanding and interrupting three-generational transmission of ineffective couple dynamics, parenting styles and discipline, and myths and facts about child abuse
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 co-parents; drug use and sexual health is also discussed
Outside The Family (Stresses and Social Supports): discussing the satisfaction and stress of being an economic provider, making a family budget, and identifying effective ways to deal with community agencies
Individual: recognizing and coping with depression and anxiety
Tying Together Five Domains: wrap-up and integration of skills to solidify gains and plan for the future, a concluding celebration activity
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