SUPPORTING FATHER INVOLVEMENT
Research has shown that paternal involvement and cooperative co-parenting is important to a child’s healthy development. Supporting Father Involvement (SFI), an educational and clinical preventive intervention program, is designed to increase fathers’ positive involvement with their children and the mothers of their children. The goal of the program is to have a positive effect on fathers and their families, enhancing family resilience and interrupting intergenerational cycles of dysfunction.
LAUNCHING THE SFI PROGRAM
In 2011, the AFWI adopted and fully funded the SFI program for a three-year pilot project at four sites in Alberta: Edmonton, Lethbridge, Cochrane, and Red Deer. The Alberta program was created for families with at least one child under age seven, and was open to expectant parents, married couples, step-parents, and divorced co-parents. Participants engaged in a 32-hour course and received long-term evaluation and support. The program proved so effective the AFWI extended its funding for several more years.
Currently, the AFWI is supporting SFI programs in Cochrane and Lethbridge. The SFI program consists of a 32-hour curriculum based on an empirically validated family risk model. As of May 2016, 275 couples had been recruited to the SFI program and had completed baseline evaluations. Of these families, 136 completed follow-up evaluations assessing personal stress and depression, parenting quality, father involvement, relationship satisfaction, parental cooperation, problem solving, and communication, as well as child behaviour.
The evidence gathered from these evaluations indicates that the SFI program leads to increased father involvement, declines in parenting stress, improvements in parent-child interactions, improvements in couple communication and problem solving, an income increase, and greater stability in the couple’s relationship and the children’s behaviour.
The SFI program was originally developed in California by Dr. Kyle Pruett and Dr. Marsha Kline Pruett in collaboration with Drs. Carolyn Pape Cowan and Phillip Cowan. SFI was designed to improve outcomes for children, primarily among low-income families, by helping male parents form more meaningful family relationships. Not only did the program show positive clinical results for the children involved, it also resulted in better outcomes for parents—both fathers and mothers.
Similar programs currently operate in California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and England, and have proven effective across a range of locales and populations.
INVOLVED FATHERS MEAN BETTER OUTCOMES FOR EVERYONE
Evidence gathered from the SFI program shows that fathers who become more positively involved with their children can have a protective effect on their entire families.
Children of positively involved fathers tend to have better peer relationships and demonstrate fewer behavioural problems such as hyperactivity and aggression. They are less likely to experience developmental delays, depression, anxiety, or to engage in risky behaviours like criminality and promiscuity. They tend to grow up to be adults who adapt better to stress, achieve higher education levels, are better problem solvers, and have more satisfying adult relationships; they are less likely to develop physical and mental health problems and addictions.
Men who are involved fathers tend to live healthier, longer lives, and to be happier with their work, their romantic relationships, and themselves. Women married to involved fathers tend to experience lower parenting stress and postnatal depression.
Resilient families can cope better in the presence of stress factors like isolation and poverty. For both mothers and fathers, improved parenting and co-parenting strategies are associated with lower rates of depression, substance misuse, and violent problem solving; this in turn lowers their children’s risk of being neglected or abused.