How Can We Expand Home Visiting to Engage Dads? Strategies, Enhancements, and Early Program Impacts
(Family and Child Policy)
Thursday, November 12, 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Merrick I (Hyatt Regency Miami)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Panel Organizers: Anna Ruth Solmeyer, Administration for Children and Families
Panel Chairs: Amanda R. Clincy, Administration for Children and Families
Discussants: Linda Mellgren, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
As one of the Obama administration’s signature evidence-based initiatives, the 1.5 billion dollar initial investment in the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program has brought a great deal of attention to home visiting and its potential for improving child health and developmental outcomes. Home visiting utilizes trained professionals to provide individually tailored information, resources, and support to expectant parents and families with young children. Historically, many home visiting programs have primarily served women and children. However, the MIECHV legislation recognizes the role of fathers by defining an eligible family as: 1) a woman who is pregnant and the father of the child, if the father is available or 2) other caregivers of a child (e.g., grandparents). In recent years, partly spurred by the inclusion of fathers in the MIECHV language, there has been an ongoing discourse on the potential for engaging fathers through home visiting.
The argument for including fathers in home visiting is strengthened by evidence suggesting that fathers make important and often unique contributions to their children’s healthy development (Cabrera et al., 2001; Osborne et al., 2014). However, much of this evidence comes from basic research and there is little systematic information about programs and services for fathers and whether and how the programs lead to improvements in child and parent outcomes. Further, programs that target fathers, such as responsible fatherhood or employment programs, often struggle to engage participants (Martinson and Nightingale, 2008). Home visiting is a promising service delivery vehicle for meeting fathers’ needs and promoting their continued engagement.
The papers in this symposium are at the forefront of research on the strategies and approaches home visiting programs use to engage diverse fathers, the variety of ways fathers participate and their perceptions of the programs, and the potential impact of father-specific home visiting program enhancements. Paper 1 highlights qualitative learnings from several home visiting programs across the nation regarding strategies programs use to engage fathers from the perspective of program staff and participating fathers and mothers. Paper 2 takes a longitudinal look at the multiple ways fathers are participating in 23 MIECHV-funded home visiting programs in a large southwestern state. Paper 3 describes the adaptation of an existing evidence-based co-parenting intervention so that it can be delivered in a home visiting setting; the program is currently the subject of a clinical trial. Finally, Paper 4 presents new findings from a multisite randomized trial testing the efficacy of a home visiting enhancement, “Dads Matter,” designed to provide fathers with important parenting knowledge and skills. The discussant brings a federal perspective and expertise in a number of areas relevant to fathers, including employment and parenting demonstrations, criminal justice populations, and child support policy.
Together, these papers provide a continuum of evidence, from in-depth, descriptive analyses to randomized trials, that illustrates important considerations for engaging fathers in home visiting. This work is a critical step in developing the evidence base, particularly if we hope to continue to scale-up home visiting programs that touch the whole family.