Supporting Father Involvement:

The Evidence Base

The Supporting Father Involvement intervention began in 2003 in Family Resource Centers in five California counties. It was based on earlier intervention studies showing the importance of fathers’ positive involvement and couple relationship quality for children’s and families’ healthy development and well-being. Findings from 7 systematic research trials conducted in three countries that contribute to the evidence base follow below.

Trial 1. Becoming a Family

(C. P. Cowan & Cowan, 2000) began in the third trimester with 72 couples expecting their first child and 24 comparable couples not expecting. The program continued for 24 weeks, to approximately 3 months after birth. The main finding was that over the 5‐year period between late pregnancy to kindergarten, parents’ marital satisfaction declined in the control group as it does in many other studies, but there was no decline in satisfaction in the ongoing intervention group participants. The 5-year follow-up (Schulz, Cowan & Cowan, 2006) showed that these effects lasted until the infants were in kindergarten.

Trial 2. Schoolchildren and their Families

(P. A. Cowan, Cowan, Ablow, Johnson, & Measelle, 2005) was a randomized controlled trial for couples with a first child about to enter elementary school. The groups met for 16 weeks. Ninety‐six couples were randomly assigned to one of two intervention conditions or a control condition in which parents could consult with staff once a year for 3 years. Here we focus on three notable results (P. A. Cowan, Cowan, & Heming, 2005);

In the groups that emphasized parenting issues (“what can you do to be more consistent in responding to your child’s demands?”), group attendees were observed to be warmer and more structured with their Kindergarten children, but their observed marital conflict did not change. In comparison with the control participants, parents in the groups that emphasized couple issues showed less conflict and negative emotion when working and playing with their child in our project playroom and greater observed warmth and structure in parent–child interactions. 2) Parents’ participation in the groups had a significant positive impact on children’s aggressive and depressed/anxious behaviors, and on academic achievement between kindergarten and first grade. 3) There were 10-year positive effects on the children of the group participants when they made their transition to high school.

Trial 3. Supporting Father Involvement (SFI)

(P. A. Cowan, Cowan, Pruett, Pruett, & Wong, 2009). In 2003, in collaboration with Marsha Kline Pruett and Kyle Pruett, the SFI intervention curriculum followed the same structure and a similar outline, using different activities to enliven the concepts. About two‐thirds of the couples were married, and most lived together, but all were involved as partners in raising their child. A randomized clinical trial (RCT) in four California counties included 289 low-income Mexican American and European American families and compared a 16‐session fathers‐only group with a 16‐session couples group and a 1‐session couples control condition. Fathers and mothers in the control group showed no positive and some negative changes, including a decline in marital satisfaction and increased behavior problems in the children. In the 16‐week fathers groups, fathers’ involvement in care of the children increased, but both fathers and mothers declined in marital satisfaction over the 18‐month study. By contrast, parents from the 16‐week couples groups showed increased father involvement, no increase in children’s behavior problems, and reductions in parenting stress—and as in our earlier trials, no decline in marital satisfaction.

Trial 4. Adding African American families to SFI

(Cowan, Cowan, Pruett, Pruett, & Gillette, 2014) included 234 new low-income Mexican American, European American, and African American families enrolled in couples groups in five California counties, using the same SFI curriculum. The evaluation found statistically significant declines in parents’ reports of violent problem solving, increases in fathers’ involvement and parent-child relationship quality, and decreases children’s aggressive behaviors. Notably, as in the prior group studies, mothers’ and fathers’ satisfaction as a couple remained stable.

Trial 5. SFI for Child Welfare- Experienced Families

(M. Pruett, Pruett, Cowan, Cowan, & Gillette, 2019) included 239 low‐income participants in five California counties; half of the families were recruited from the community and half were referred by the California Child Welfare system. In a randomized clinical trial, some couples were invited to participate in groups “immediately”, while others were placed on a waitlist and offered a chance to participate in “delayed” groups approx. 6 months later. Couples in the immediate intervention reported significantly less couple conflict, which, in turn, was related to increases in both mother-child and father-child relationship quality followed by decreases in aggressive behaviors and depressed symptoms in the children 18 months later. Outcomes were as positive for the child welfare‐referred families as for families recruited from the community. A surprising outcome of trials 4 and 5 is that intervention participants showed a statistically significant gain in yearly income.

Trial 6. SFI‐Alberta.

A replication with 106 couples at four sites in Calgary, Alberta, Canada (M. Pruett, Gillette, & Pruett, 2016) used a pre–post design and enlisted middle‐ and working‐class, primarily Caucasian families. Twelve months after entering the study, SFI‐Alberta participants showed significant positive change on 9 of the 11 measures used in prior SFI studies in the United States, including fathers’ involvement in care of the children, parenting stress, and improved co-parenting and parenting.

Trial 7. SFI/PasP in England

(Casey et al., 2017). Renamed ‘Parents as Partners’, this trial showed very similar positive results for low‐income parents from varied ethnic backgrounds at more than 10 sites. Changes in the first 100 participating couples—many referred for already recognized relationship and/or adjustment problems in the parents or their children—found significant reductions in parents’ anxiety and depression, parenting stress, violent problem‐solving strategies and children’s behavior problems.

Take The Next Step

Keep exploring how Supporting Father Involvement can improve outcomes for your organization.