Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Engaging Fathers: Expanding the Scope of Evidence-Based Home Visiting Programs

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 8:50 AM
Merrick I (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Anna Lipton Galbraith1, Cynthia Osborne2, Jennifer Winter Craver1 and Ruy Manrique-Betanzos1, (1)University of Texas, Austin, (2)University of Texas at Austin
Home visiting is a model of early intervention that aims to improve child outcomes by influencing parenting practices and a child’s home environment. Low levels of father participation in home visiting programs mean that program providers may be missing an opportunity to engage an important influence in most young children’s home environment, their father. By increasing father participation, home visiting programs can broaden their scope of influence within the families they serve and potentially expand upon the program effects linked to the participation of mothers and children in randomized control trials.

Although policymakers and practitioners are interested in increasing father participation in home visiting programs, there is limited research to inform these efforts. The research we do have typically only measures father participation as whether he attends the home visit or not. This measure may underestimate the true level of father engagement with the content that the home visiting program aims to offer, if the father learns the material from the mother or reviews materials left behind by the home visitor.  Moreover, we have little information about how father participation in the program changes over time.

This paper examines more broadly the ways fathers are participating in home visiting programs, barriers to father participation, and program strategies that are effective for engaging fathers over time. The paper uses a mixed-methods approach and presents analyses of data from 23 MIECHV-funded home visiting program sites in a large Southwestern state that were part of an initiative to increase father participation. The home visiting programs in the sample serve expectant parents and families with children ages zero to five in 14 counties, including both urban and rural communities, using one of four evidence-based home visiting models.

Data sources include the programs’ administrative data, a longitudinal survey of approximately 1050 mothers, focus groups with 38 fathers, a longitudinal survey of 135 home visitors employed by the programs, and interviews with 47 home visitors and 23 program coordinators. Qualitative analyses assess the ways fathers are participating in home visiting programs, fathers’ perspectives on home visiting programs, and barriers to father participation. Quantitative analyses include descriptive analyses of the levels of observed and unobserved father participation in home visiting programs over time and regression analyses of the strategies that are effective for engaging fathers, as well as the home visitor and family characteristics that may enhance or limit the efficacy of father engagement strategies.

Preliminary analyses show that fathers are participating in the programs in ways researchers have not traditionally measured, including repeating the lessons with their partners and children and completing homework with their pre-school aged children. Additionally, we find that simple and relatively low-cost approaches, such as explaining the benefits of father participation to parents and providing flexible scheduling, are most effective for increasing father participation in home visiting programs.