Despite increased interest in engaging fathers in early childhood programs few studies have examined the factors related to fathers' participation. Using data from a randomized trial testing the effect of a community-based, home-visiting doula intervention on birth and developmental outcomes for young, high-risk mothers and their infants, this project examines the extent of father participation in the intervention and correlates of fathers' participation.
124 young, low-income, African-American women (age: M = 18.2, SD = 1.7) participated in a perinatal doula home-visiting intervention. Doulas visited with mothers prenatally, attended labor and delivery as support/advocate for mother, and visited postpartum. Father participation was measured by the number of visits with the mother at which the doula recorded the father was present in visit reports. Correlates of fathers' participation are drawn from 2-3 hour structured interviews done with the mothers prenatally. ANOVA (PASW v17.0) was used to assess group difference for fathers on demographic and relationship correlates. Fathers' mean age was 20.6 (SD = 3.4) and the mean age difference between the pair was 2.8 years (SD = 2.9).
Fifty-five mothers (44%) had at least one visit from the doula, prenatal or postpartum, in which the father was present. Within the 55 cases with at least one father visit, fathers averaged attendance at 1.8 prenatal visits (18% of mother's prenatal visits), 2.1 postpartum visits (17% of mother's postpartum visits), and 2.8 total visits (12% of total mother's visits). Thirty-four (62%) attended at least one prenatal visit, 44 fathers (80%) attended at least one postpartum visit, and 23 fathers (42%) attended at least one of each. Fifteen fathers (27%) attended more than one prenatal visit, 23 fathers (42%) attended more than one postpartum visit, and 22 fathers (40%) attended three or more visits total. Most father-attended prenatal visits took place in the medical clinic (52%) and most father-attended postpartum visits took place in the mother's home (44%). Across three participation thresholds (“at least one prenatal visit”, “at least one postpartum visit”, and “2 or more visits total”) fathers who provided more support, more positive interpersonal exchanges, and were in a partnered relationship with the mother were more likely to participate. Fathers who had children with other women were less likely to attend “at least one visit” both prenatal and postpartum. When the mother and father co-resided the father was more likely to attend at least one postpartum visit and attend 2 or more visits total. Father participation was not related to father or mother age, father's employment status or father's education level.
Findings provide a baseline for the extent of father participation in a perinatal home-visiting intervention for young mother without any formal programmatic emphasis on engaging fathers. Findings also point to relationship quality, status, and co-residence as key factors in father participation in such programs. Programs seeking to engage fathers should attend to relationship issues between the mother and father and capitalize on father's engagement with the pregnancy by providing invitations for father participation during clinic visits.