Evaluating programs for fathers

Evaluating programs for fathers

13 November 2013
Evaluating programs for fathers

For busy practitioners who are striving to meet the needs of families with limited resources, taking the time out to ask how the dads are going may seem like a luxury.

However, with the mounting evidence of fathers' importance to their children’s health and happiness, many services are wondering how to include fathers more effectively in programs.

Take the example of an agency mounting a standard parenting program such as 123 Magic, Triple P or Circle of Security. How might we evaluate the program’s effectiveness for fathers?

A question to start with is ‘are dads attending?’ Although it sounds simple enough, counting the dads who turn up for a program can lead to several questions about the families that are targeted, and also questions about the assumptions of the staff. It is common to hear, for example, that only a few dads were expected to turn up because ‘there are so many single families around here’.

However our notion of fatherhood has broadened beyond biological fathers to include stepdads, male carers and father-figures. So programs can reasonably target males even when mothers are separated from the father of their child.

Another assumption is that dads would not attend programs because they are working during the day. Yet in areas with many shift-working dads, attendance at parenting classes is often low. An even broader assumption (without real evidence) is that dads are not interested.

The purpose of tallying up the numbers of dads who attend (and who complete) a program is to help improve your targeting or your program content. This means checking fathers’ participation at all stages of the program.

How many dads, compared to mums, rang to ask about the program, took a flyer from the stand, came to the information night, brought their child to the clinic, attended all sessions, completed the final evaluation survey?

At the next level there are also measures being developed of ‘engagement’ to assess how involved fathers were in the group or couple program. Getting an accurate measure of fathers' involvement at all of these points will help tailor your program.

A small example of using numbers to tailor your content is to leave dads to select the resources that they want. A count of the ones left over will give a guide to which resources the dads find appealing.

At the end of the day it’s the parenting of the fathers that we wish to enhance. In many cases, the standard measures of parents’ behaviours can be used for both parents.

For relationship measures however, there is more to consider. New father-specific attachment measures are becoming available to use alongside the traditional mother-oriented measures.

As well, deciding which programs have been evaluated for fathers is not so easy. Many evaluations ignore gender measures specifically and simply report that ‘parents’ improved their parenting.

Improving a program to be more effective with fathers or showing that a program is working for fathers will involve scrutinising which fathers are recruited, how they engage and how their parenting is enriched as a result.  

Further resources

Father-inclusive practice and associated professional competencies

Fathers and Families Research Program at the Family Action Centre

The Fatherhood Institute (UK)   


The feature image is by Big D2112, CC BY-ND 2.0.


From my experience, men (dads, stepdads etc) assume that it is female oriented area and that they may be the only male there. By focusing on ensuring that dads/stepdads are included in the wording and targeting information flyers at dads AND mums may help to increase male participation. Once the dad knows there will be other dads there, they may be more willing to attend seminars, programs and other services offered.
I'm always intrigued that 'single parent families' equates to a complete absence of a father from children's lives. We know that is not the case, as the vast majority of non-resident dads continue to have direct contact with their children, with a weekend per fortnight and one night a week being the most often heard about contact arrangement. Do these children not deserve consistent parenting from both parents? How confusing for children to experience 123 Magic or Triple P strategies from one parent and not the other? Delivering such programs to two parents, perhaps in separate venues and at separate times (and dare I say it...after hours...!!) is resource intensive. I wonder when will policy makers and funding bodies finally acknowledge that family structures are changed, and with that parenting practice (eg the 'hands-on' father)? Services need additional resources to provide services for chldren in the changed environment. Until that happens, dads (especially dads living separate from their children) will remain locked out of the service system, held responsible for little else other than the financial upkeep of children. And that will keep mum responsibile for pretty much everything else!

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Richard Fletcher

Richard Fletcher is a senior lecturer in the Family Action Centre, Faculty of Health, The University of Newcastle, NSW, and the convenor of the Australian Fatherhood Research Network.

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