Improving Father Involvement in Early Home Visiting Programs: A Pilot Intervention Study
Home visiting programs represent a promising child maltreatment prevention strategy. Despite this, fathers have largely been overlooked as potential service targets even though they are linked to both child developmental outcomes and child maltreatment risk. The present study describes a pilot test of an enhancement intervention to promote positive father involvement in families receiving home visiting services. The enhancement engages biological fathers as early as possible in services, and aims to: 1) improve fathers’ engagement in home visiting services; 2) improve fathers’ knowledge, skill, and commitment to the fathering role, and 3) foster co-parenting strategies among mothers and fathers. This presentation reports findings from a pilot intervention study, including pre-post self-report data and digitally recorded data on parents’ verbal interactions with their infants.
Two program sites delivering diverse home visiting models were engaged in the greater metropolitan Chicago area and 27 families were recruited for the study. Using a quasi-experimental time-lagged design families were enrolled in two study phases sequentially. In the baseline comparison group phase, 12 families received standard home visiting services and completed pre- and four-month post-tests. Following this, staff at the home visiting programs were trained to implement the father involvement enhancement using a manualized intervention, coupled with ongoing clinical supervision. Twelve families were then enrolled and received these enhanced services over the first four months of services (completing identical pre- and posttests). Outcomes were calculated using Cohen’s d effect size change scores. Data are presented on father engagement and retention as well as mother and father parenting and the parent relationship. Additionally, quantified counts of parent verbal interactions from in-home digital audio recordings were examined from day-long pre- and post-test recordings.
The study sample includes predominantly low-income unmarried African American families. The study enrolled and retained a high percentage of fathers, and both parents were well engaged in program services with some variation between programs, both promising results exceeding similar clinical trials in home visiting. Outcomes suggest generally promising trends favoring the intervention group on a number of measures. Specifically, positive change was noted in the quality of parental relationships, mother and father reported stress, father involvement with the child, and an increase in father engagement in services. Importantly, positive change was also observed in self-report maltreatment indicators. Verbal recording data also showed increase in parents’ verbalizations toward the infant, and yielded some validation of self-report measures of interactions with the child.
Conclusions and Implications
The Dads Matter enhancement appears to be a potentially feasible and acceptable approach to increasing fathers’ engagement in home visiting services. Fathers participated in the intervention at favorable rates and implementation of the intervention appears to yield greater inclusion of fathers. Further, the intervention group evidenced generally positive trends in parenting outcomes on self-report measures as well as observational recording data of parents’ verbalizations toward their infant. The enhancement would benefit from continued iterative development to refine the intervention and implement a more rigorous clinical trial of the intervention.