Academic journal article Family Relations

Father Involvement and Early Intervention: Effects of Empowerment and Father Role Identity

Academic journal article Family Relations

Father Involvement and Early Intervention: Effects of Empowerment and Father Role Identity

Article excerpt

Under Part C of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, states are required to provide services to children under age three who are at risk for developmental disorders while also providing families with information about caring effectively for their child with special needs. The Tennessee Early Intervention System (TEIS) provides a bridge between families of children with special needs and the services available within the community through the provision of family-centered services (Tennessee Department of Education, 2013). Family-centered services encourage parents and professionals to work within the context of the family and the family's daily routines; among other results, parental empowerment is an expected outcome (Higgins, 2005; Wang et al., 2006). The present analysis focuses on fathers in the TEIS program whose children were previously diagnosed with developmental delays and identifiable disabilities, including, but not limited to, cerebral palsy, autism, spina bifida, Down syndrome, and speech and/or hearing disorders and who were participants in the TEIS service program. Finding evidence that links empowerment to more active involvement with children among fathers who are program participants could provide additional support for programmatic reliance on family-centered approaches. Exploration of that link shaped the research questions that guided this analysis.

Family-Centered Care, Empowerment, and Father Involvement

Interactions between families of young children with disabilities and service providers in statewide birth-to-3 programs that are enabling and empowering have been associated with several beneficial family outcomes. For example, in a meta-analysis of 47 studies that included more than 11,000 participants, Dunst, Trivette, and Hamby (2007) found in the majority of studies that family-centered practices were strongly associated with a variety of positive parent, family, and child behavior outcomes. The concept that was examined more often than other family support concepts was family empowerment. Empowerment refers to an individual's ability to mobilize and apply strategies that lead to greater control over one's life by influencing their interpersonal and social environments (Dempsey & Dunst, 2004). In the field of early intervention, the concept of empowerment involves the restructuring of traditional relationships between parents and professionals from one that historically has been paternalistic, and sometimes demeaning, to one in which professionals collaborate with parents in the decision-making process, treat them as partners, and communicate with them in respectful and valued ways. In more recent meta-analytic studies, Dunst and his colleagues have presented further support for the broad, empowering effects of family-centered practices (Dunst & Trivette, 2009; Trivette, Dunst, & Hamby, 2010). These findings are based almost exclusively on samples of mothers or mixed samples that included too few fathers to conduct separate analyses. At present, we do not know whether the empowering effects of family-centered practices promote greater involvement with children in fathers who participate in birth-to-3 early intervention programs.

The conceptualization of father involvement (FI) has shifted over the past several decades from simplistic dichotomies of presence- absence, to consideration of the amount of time men spend with their children, to recognition of the multidimensional nature of men's relationships with their children. Two of our measures of FI build on the work of many scholars (Bruce & Fox, 1999; Hofferth, 2003; Lamb, Pleck, Charnov, & Levine, 1987; Pleck, 2007) and include father's interactive play with his child and caretaking of the child. A third measure was used to address the finding that many fathers may find it difficult to attach affectively to a young child with special needs, particularly when the child's disability is severe (Lamb & Billings, 1997). …

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