Tobacco Control (US) Father-Son Programme

24 October 2005

The US National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion PREVENTION RESEARCH CENTERS program facilitates the funding of extramural research centers that add to knowledge about preventing and controlling chronic disease. 

Now a research project is aiming to evaluate the effectiveness of a programme designed to improve the health behaviours (including their alcohol, drug and tobacco use) of AFrican American boys who do not live with their fathers

The Programme

The Fathers and Sons Project, based in Flint, MI, is a unique program for African American fathers and their 8-12 year old sons who are not living in the same home. It aims to strengthen the bonds between fathers and sons and promote positive health behaviors. The program brings together the expertise of community-based organizations, the local health department, and the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

The Fathers and Sons Curriculum provides opportunities for participants to engage in mutually beneficial activities to enhance their relationships, obtain information about parent/child responsibilities and expectations, practice relevant skills, address barriers to achieving goals, and share experiences with others facing similar challenges. The intervention has three consistent themes: effective communication; cultural awareness; and skill building. The curriculum covers the following topics over the course of 15 sessions: Diversity among Families; Culture and History; Health Enhancement Strategies; General Communication; Family Functioning; Parenting Behaviors and Relationships; Using Computers to Communicate; Communication about Risky Behaviors; Culture and Health; and the Closing Graduation Ceremony. Between sessions, the fathers and sons complete homework assignments. In total, the program includes forty-five contact hours, supplemented by a booster session for graduates.

Communication between fathers and sons, and among the participating families, is a critical component of the program. At the beginning of each session, the fathers and sons "check in" by describing an experience of the previous week, or any topic of their choosing. This provides a forum for the families to discuss issues that are important to them. Sons also have an opportunity to write about their feelings in journals and they can share their entries with the entire group during "check in" time. In another communication activity, the fathers and sons are asked to write letters to each other.

Skill-building forms an important part of the curriculum. Several sessions are devoted to parenting issues. In one of these, fathers and sons switch roles to give them a better understanding of each other’s point of view. The fathers and sons also discuss risky health behaviors, and the sons practice refusal skills to help them avoid pressures they may encounter in their schools and neighborhoods. Physical activities provide a natural means of promoting positive health behaviors while encouraging a bond between parent and child.

Memorybooks are given to each family to collect photographs and written materials that represent the experiences that the fathers and sons have had in the program. The fathers and sons create culturally inspired products during the sessions, and as part of their homework assignments. These accomplishments can be publicly displayed, an experience that is especially affirming for the sons.

To build a sense of pride and unity in the program, an Adinkra symbol is selected by each group and placed on a T-shirt that is given to all participants and staff. Adinkra symbols are African designs representing specific values. One group, for example, selected the symbol meaning, "Love does not get lost on the way home," while another selected, "The human being is not like the palm tree that is self-sufficient." Participants wear these shirts during the graduation ceremony, where their extended families are invited to share their accomplishments.

The Fathers and Sons Steering Committee developed the program curriculum using a community-based participatory process. This collective effort has been invaluable in helping us understand and address issues vital to the creation of a culturally relevant intervention, as well as challenges in recruiting and retaining participants.

The Fathers and Son project received a grant from the CDC to extend and expand its evaluation efforts.

The PRC Periodic Report 2002-2003 featured additional information about the Flint Fathers and Sons Program. Download a copy of the full report. If you do not have Acrobat Reader, you may download it (free of charge) from Adobe’s web site.

The Fathers and Sons project was featured at the PHSAD 19th Annual Minority Health Conference, March 11-12, 2004 in Ann Arbor. Click here to view the presentation, ‘Stories from the Field: Preliminary Results from the Flint Fathers and Sons Evaluation Project.’ 

The Research Investigation

Improving Adolescent Health Through Enhanced Father-Son Relationships
University of Michigan: Prevention Research Center of Michigan

The "Fathers and Sons" program, a partnership of the prevention research center, the local health department, and eight community organizations, is designed to improve relationships between African American boys aged 8 to 12 years and their nonresident fathers. Researchers anticipate that frequent and positive father-son contact will increase healthy behaviors among both the fathers and sons and reduce or prevent risk behaviors such as alcohol, drug, and tobacco use; violent behavior; and early sexual initiation among the boys. The program, characterized by three themes (effective communication, cultural awareness, and skill building) includes a 15-session curriculum, a facilitator training manual, and a community resource guide. Group sessions offer a safe setting in which to practice skills and learn about diversity, communication, relationships, health, and other related topics, and to share experiences with other people facing similar challenges. During the program, fathers and their sons spend about 45 hours together. Researchers are evaluating the program’s effect on health-risk behaviors, satisfaction with family relationships, and other areas.

Principal Investigator: Noreen Clark (
Project Identifier: Enhancing Adolescent Health Behaviors Through Strengthening Father-Son Relationship—Core Project (1998-2004)


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