Administrator Perspectives On Program Enhancements to Increase Father Involvement in Early Childhood Home Visitation
Relationship-based parenting programs such as early childhood home visitation have emphasized the importance of the helping relationship in increasing parental involvement, but recent research suggests that the quality of the helping relationship does not predict father involvement in home visitation (Sierau, Brand, & Jungmann, 2012). Little is known about how home visiting programs already using evidence-based program models develop enhancements and additions to these models to engage fathers and increase father involvement. This paper uses interviews with administrators in a statewide network of home visiting programs in a large Midwestern state to explore their perspectives on the promise and feasibility of developing father participation program enhancements within established, evidence-based home visiting program models.
In-depth, semi-structured, qualitative interviews approximately 90-120 minutes in length were conducted with 34 trainers and program administrators in a Midwestern, statewide network of home visiting programs. Interviews were transcribed, coded thematically, and subjected to content analysis.
Four primary father engagement themes emerged: 1) Gender was framed as both a potential impediment and as an assumed requirement in staffing. Doubts were expressed as to the feasibility of hiring male workers to do relationship-based work with young mothers and infants very well or for very long, and respondents feared that specialized father involvement enhancements with separate budgets and separate, male staff would drain current resources already stretched to the limit. 2) Demographic factors were referenced often, noting that most clients were minor, unmarried mothers still dependent on their own mothers as a matter of both practicality and of welfare policy; specialized program enhancements that adapt home visiting curricula and programming to meet the unique developmental and social needs of teenaged mothers and their co-resident mothers emerged as potential programmatic rivals to father engagement concepts. 3) Father engagement and involvement was referenced as an important current and future training domain. A unit on strategies for father involvement is currently part of intermediate training that most home visiting staff would receive after basic training and orientation but before their third year of employment. Concern was expressed that veteran staff moved through all training offered relatively quickly and that programmatic development of advanced training on topics such as father engagement was always needed. 4) Respondents were leery of new, state-level programmatic expectations to develop father programs unless state-level funding and ongoing technical assistance for father engagement programming was to be made available. Respondents emphasized that other home visiting enhancements such as support groups and field trips regularly attracted high father involvement but were often at risk for funding cuts.
Conclusions and Implications
Respondents saw training on father engagement as an important area for early childhood home visitation but expressed concern that formal father engagement programs could compete against established home visiting programs for funding and staffing. New father engagement strategies should consider the current stability of home visiting programs.