Academic journal article Family Relations

An Experimental Study of an Empowerment-Based Intervention for African American Head Start Fathers

Academic journal article Family Relations

An Experimental Study of an Empowerment-Based Intervention for African American Head Start Fathers

Article excerpt

This study examined the effects of an empowerment intervention, Men as Teachers, on African American Head Start fathers. Fathers were randomly assigned to the empowerment program or to a control group in which participants viewed a five-part videotape series on parenting. The results revealed a significant improvement in fathers' attitudes about their ability to teach their preschool-age children for the experimental group only. There was no significant improvement in these fathers' attitudes about racial oppression socialization practices. Resident fathers in the experimental group showed significant gains in self-esteem and parenting satisfaction.

Social service agencies, family support organizations, and policy makers throughout the country have become increasingly aware of the need to provide services to fathers in addition to mothers (National Practitioners Network for Fathers and Families, 2001). Many new programs have been developed for fathers during the past decade (Bernard & Knitzer, 1999). Although many of the new programs are grassroots efforts to mobilize fathers to address the problems of families in communities, others are well-established ones that offer a variety of ongoing support programs for fathers (Bernard & Knitzer). In fact, the most recent estimates indicate that 33 of 50 states have established formal responsible fatherhood commissions, initiatives, and programs serving mostly low-income fathers and their families ("Comparative Review of State Fatherhood Efforts," 2001). However, few programs have implemented outcome evaluations to determine the impact of their services on fathers and children (Gadsden, Pitt, & Tift, 2001; Hawkins & Fagan, 2001). The lack of outcome studies makes it difficult for practitioners and program planners to determine the effect of programs on participants and which participants benefit most from program services. This study attempts to fill this void by presenting the results of an outcome evaluation of a Head Start initiative for African American fathers.

Overview of Head Start Initiatives for Fathers

Head Start has been particularly active in developing fatherhood initiatives. The Head Start Bureau funded a number of demonstration projects to increase the involvement of fathers and other men in Head Start between 1991 and 1994. More recently, Head Start increased its efforts to provide services to fathers of infants (Raikes & Tarullo, 1999). The study described here is based on a parenting program, Men as Teachers, that was implemented by one of the Head Start agencies that received demonstration project funds from the Head Start Bureau between 1991 and 1994 (Fagan & Stevenson, 1995).

Researchers and practitioners have become increasingly interested in determining which types of programming are best suited for fathers with children in Head Start. Fagan and Iglesias (1999) conducted a quasi-experimental study of a father involvement Head Start initiative that was based on microstructural theory (Risman, 1989). With its roots in feminist principles, the microstructural model places a high value on changing expectations of fathers and mothers so greater equity in parenting roles results. According to this theoretical approach, fathers and mothers behave more similarly if they are exposed to similar expectations with respect to parenting. Fagan and Iglesias predicted that fathers who have high levels of exposure to their child's Head Start program, particularly through classroom volunteering and participation in parent-child recreation activites, would develop stronger connections to their children. It was expected that the development of closer ties between fathers and children would be manifested in higher levels of paternal involvement with children at home, particularly in those areas of adult involvement emphasized in Head Start (i.e., adult-child interactions that promote school readiness). Further, they predicted that the intervention promoting increased father involvement with children in Head Start would result in higher quality paternal nurturance and responsiveness to preschoolers. …

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