Parenting programmes ignore dads and waste money, say FI and Yale

7 September 2014

Including dads could boost child outcomes and save taxpayers’ money, says global research review

The Fatherhood Institute and leading experts from US and UK universities say a ‘game change’ is needed in the commissioning, design and evaluation of parenting programmes, to get fathers more involved and thus improve child outcomes and value-for-money.

Research shows clearly that fathers have substantial impact on child development, well-being, and family functioning. But a global review of evidence by researchers at Yale University and the Fatherhood Institute in London, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, found that they are largely ignored by parenting programmes in the UK and elsewhere. Parenting programmes rarely attempt to engage with fathers or evaluate their impact on key outcomes for both parents, such as parenting and co-parenting quality, family functioning, parental stress or depression, or a range of child health outcomes, the researchers found. Cost-effectiveness analysis is also rare, but some studies suggest parenting interventions can produce a healthy return on investment[1] and research shows clearly that programmes work best where both parents are engaged[2], so well-designed, father-inclusive programmes should be more cost-effective.

The paper should prove interesting reading to the UK Government, which recently announced an extension of its ‘troubled families’ programme to 500,000 families, as well as doubling funds for relationship counselling to £19.5 million and launching a ‘family test’ to be passed by all domestic government policies.

Fatherhood Institute head of research and joint chief executive Adrienne Burgess, co-author of the research review, described it as a ‘wake-up call’ for everyone involved in early years and other family services. “The review confirms that those who commission, design and provide support to families are failing children, imposing too much responsibility on mothers and wasting taxpayers’ money.  Outcomes are undermined when the other parent (usually the dad) doesn’t understand what’s going on and isn’t ‘on board’. As we said in the review, it’s time for a game change.”

Thousands of parenting programmes are delivered mainly to mothers every year across the world.  The researchers identified only 199 that included some evidence of father-inclusion or father impact on child or family outcomes.  Among the 34 ‘exemplar’ programmes they highlighted, just three are in the UK: the government-initiated Family Nurse Partnership[3], Bath and North East Somerset’s Celebrating Fatherhood initiative[4] and the Strength to Change programme[5] for fathers who have perpetrated domestic violence.

In his commentary on the research review in the same journal, leading UK child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Paul Ramchandani of Imperial College, London, added that Britain’s child and adolescent mental health services need to engage both parents right from the earliest point of contact, and change the way they engage and work with fathers throughout the clinical journey; and that all early years providers should focus provision on families, as opposed to just mothers and infants. “We hear too many stories from men who feel sidelined by services provided for their children…the active engagement of both parents or carers is of such potential benefit to children in the vast majority of cases that to ignore the opportunity to change seems wasteful,” he said.

Download the review

The reference for the research review is: Panter-Brick, C., Burgess, A., Eggerman, M., McAllister, F., Pruett, K. and Leckman, J. F. (2014). Practitioner Review: Engaging fathers – recommendations for a game change in parenting interventions based on a systematic review of the global evidence. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.  Advanced online publication.

And don’t miss our ‘Bringing Fathers In’ resources…

The Fatherhood Institute has produced a range of ‘Bringing fathers in’ resources to help commissioners and providers of programmes engage more effectively with dads. These can be downloaded for free at:   [1] The Washington State Institute for Public Policy estimated that the US Nurse Family Partnership produced a $17,000 per family return on investment. See p21 of the review for more details. [2] [3] [4] [5]

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