Abstract: A Quasi-Experimental Study of the Circle of Parents Peer Support Program for Fathers of Children in Head Start/Early Head Start (Society for Social Work and Research 22nd Annual Conference - Achieving Equal Opportunity, Equity, and Justice)

A Quasi-Experimental Study of the Circle of Parents Peer Support Program for Fathers of Children in Head Start/Early Head Start

Friday, January 12, 2018: 8:22 AM
Marquis BR Salon 12 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Paul Lanier, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Background and Purpose: To address the importance of father involvement in healthy child development, there is a need for effective interventions to support fathers in low-income families. Although numerous parent support programs have been developed and implemented across the country, there are few examples of parenting programs delivered specifically to fathers. The existing evidence suggests that recruiting and retaining fathers is a challenge, but less is known about the effectiveness of father-specific programs. The purpose of this study was to assess the effectiveness of Circle of Parents®, a widely-used but under-studied peer-support parenting program. Circle of Parents is a mutual-aid program designed to prevent child maltreatment and strengthen families. The model has several advantages that may promote father engagement, particularly when delivered in the context of an early learning environment with a focus on parental involvement, such as Head Start/Early Head Start (HS/EHS). However, no known studies exist that rigorously examine the effects of this model.

Methods: This study was a community-university partnership with a county Community Action Agency providing HS/EHS services. This mixed methods study used a randomized encouragement design to examine the effectiveness of Circle of Parents. We recruited fathers (n = 102) and collected baseline information using standardized measures. Follow-up, post-test data was collected after one year. The sample included a high proportion of African American fathers (84%), about half of fathers reported having a steady job, and a third reported less than $5,000 income in the past year. Fathers randomly assigned to the treatment condition were encouraged to attend group meetings and received regular invitations to attend for a year. Fathers in the waitlist comparison group received usual services. As the study progressed, many participants did not comply with baseline treatment assignment, so a quasi-experimental design was adopted and propensity score analysis was used to adjust for potential selection bias in outcome models.

Results: Overall, we found very low engagement in Circle of Parents among fathers randomly assigned to receive the intervention. Less than half (40%) of intervention fathers ever attended a group meeting. There were few significant program effects when using either intent-to-treat or quasi-experimental analytic methods. Out of 10 outcome measures assessed, results indicate fathers who participated in Circle of Parents had an increase in parenting efficacy and a decrease in child-parent conflict.

Implications: Overall, findings of this study are consistent with prior research. Engaging fathers was extremely challenging and participation was much lower than desired. A small group of fathers was consistently involved in the program. However, extending the group to a larger population of fathers with children in HS/EHS was not successful. There was no increase in social support, the main outcome of interest. The lack of strong program effects is likely due to low engagement and participation. Findings from qualitative interviews suggest future efforts should explore strategies to provide flexible scheduling options, develop opportunities for individual or smaller-group interactions, and explore home-based or neighborhood-based group meetings.