Category Archives: Father Involvement

What’s Up with Evidence-Based Father Involvement?

In 2002, the National Family Preservation Network (NFPN) embarked on a voyage in uncharted waters to a research demonstration project on father involvement. The project was funded with a $450,000 grant from the Stuart Foundation and was unique in that:

  • It was the first known research study to determine not only how child welfare social workers viewed fathers but how to motivate these workers to involve more fathers in the lives of their children.
  • The study included the first-of-its-kind fatherhood training manual with onsite training provided to the social workers.
  • Following training and other motivational assistance, the social workers demonstrated increases in measures of identifying, locating, contacting, and involving fathers in case planning and placement of children.
  • A research paper of the study was published in a peer-reviewed journal.
  • As an outgrowth of the study, NFPN produced basic and advanced curricula for training front-line practitioners who work with fathers.
  • There is no known replica of this demonstration project.

While programs for practitioners have been relatively scarce, hundreds of programs have been developed for fathers. These programs are varied and may include marriage and relationship strengthening as well as employment, child support, parenting, financial, and other types of assistance. Although tremendous gains have been made in the number and type of programs for fathers, these programs share a weakness with programs for practitioners: little evaluation or development of evidence-based practice.

A study conducted by the Center for Research on Fathers, Children and Family Well-Being, found that only 15% of federal grantees in the most recent fatherhood grant cycle were selected for participation in evaluation. The Center goes on to say, “The fatherhood field passionately believes that . . . serving fathers ultimately improves child well-being. The field therefore has a responsibility to back up those beliefs by investing in researcher-practitioner collaborations to go through all of the stages involved in developing evidence-based practice.”

How can we build evidence-based father involvement programs?

To the greatest extent possible, all of us who are passionate about helping fathers need to use evidence-based curricula and programs. And we need to insist that all programs include a meaningful evaluation that goes well beyond counting numbers and conducting pre/post satisfaction and knowledge surveys. The target to aim for in evaluation is measuring the well-being of children.

Here are some resources that could move the field closer to the target:

  • The federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF) is soliciting applications for the establishment of a Responsible Fatherhood Research Network:
  • The Clearinghouse has released The Responsible Fatherhood Toolkit: Resources from the Field that provides assistance with launching and sustaining successful fatherhood programs: (PDF download)
  • Read the full report on the current status of father involvement and evidence-based practice: (PDF download)
  • Supporting Father Involvement offers evidence-based curricula for fatherhood programs:

Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director


Engaging Fathers

It seems that when working with families, especially with those who are not in contact with the fathers of their children, counselors tend to be quiet about bringing up the idea of father involvement. No one really knows the reason why this happens; but one can assume that fathers are not often thought about because they may not be playing a role in the lives of their children. Most of the time the men are either working or are not around. Sometimes they are living apart from the children because of past conflict with the mother. Mothers seem to be more of the caretaker who provides for the ongoing basic needs of their children, no matter what.

A recent survey of the extent to which IFPS providers involve fathers revealed the following:

Chart: How do IFPS workers engage fathers?

If fathers are given the opportunity and are encouraged to be part of the intervention, the children’s behavior may improve and they would experience a positive change in their family dynamics. If fathers were to be interviewed, many of them would probably say that they want to play an active role in the lives of their children. With fathers involved, a stronger parental bond can be established between the parents and with the children, which can help to influence positive changes within the family.

According to the Fatherhood Institute website dated December 15, 2010, “children of involved fathers are more likely to live in cognitively stimulating homes (Williams & Sternberg, 2002) and fathers’ commitment to the education process also matters.” If a teenager is having issues with being destructive at home, would it not be a good idea to include every member of the family, since the problem not only affects one person, but everyone within the family?  This would give the families the opportunity to work together and build on change. So the question is asked again, why not include fathers in the intervention process?

According to the Social Work Dictionary (5th Edition), family therapy “focuses on the whole system of individuals and interpersonal and communication patterns. It seeks to clarify roles and reciprocal obligations and to encourage more adaptable behaviors among the family members.” If we believe in the family system, why is it that fathers are not included in the intervention process? After all, is it not our goal as counselors to have the family work together in order to decrease the extremity of unhealthy behaviors? Fathers can become a supportive beam to the structure of the household that will help to stabilize the foundation of the family. When the entire family is part of the intervention, we see greater progress and stability within the family.

To engage fathers, perhaps we can consider the following questions when interviewing the mothers:

  • Do you have any safety concerns that keep you from wanting your children to have more contact with their father?
  • How can you reach out to the child(ren)’s father?
  • What relationship does the child(ren) have with their father?
  • How often does the child(ren) see their father?
  • What type of influences might the father have on the children?
  • It seems that if we involve the father in the intervention, the child may begin to work on some positive changes. What do you think?

Of course one is aware that not every child may have the opportunity to have a father around due to possible safety issues or the nature of different circumstances. Nevertheless, we can begin to empower those fathers who are around and want to take an active role in their children’s lives.

As professionals, it is important that we work closely together to come up with different strategies on how to engage fathers and help them to be part of their children’s lives. If this happens, we will begin to see positive results.

For more information on IFPS and father involvement, see the IFPS Guide to Father Involvement.

Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts.

Posted by Moneefah D. Jackson