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Who Benefits from a Brief Educational Program for First-Time Fathers of Healthy Infants?. Father Involvement Research Conference 2008 Toronto, Ontario. Funding. Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR). Research Team. University of Calgary Karen Benzies, RN, PhD

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Who benefits from a brief educational program for first time fathers of healthy infants l.jpg

Who Benefits from a Brief Educational Program for First-Time Fathers of Healthy Infants?

Father Involvement Research Conference 2008Toronto, Ontario

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Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR)

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Research Team

  • University of Calgary

    • Karen Benzies, RN, PhD

  • University of Alberta

    • Joyce Magill-Evans OT(C), PhD

    • Margaret J. Harrison, PhD

    • Mark Gierl, PhD

    • Sandra MacPhail, RN, MN

  • Health Regions

    • Maureen Best, RN, MN

    • Laurie Blahitka, RN, MN

    • Cathy Kimak, BScN

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Canadian families are changing

  • Increased labour force participation by mothers

  • Increased father involvement in parenting

  • Fathers prioritized “father-specific” parenting classes as one of their top 5 supports to increase skills and confidence

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Why are Fathers Important?

  • Social interactions (play) between parents and their infants promote language acquisition

  • Father-child interactions during infancy predicted child language development at 18 months and 4 years

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Few Father-Specific Programs

  • Most programs for fathers are based on programs for mothers

  • There is some evidence that programs may be effective in enhancing the father’s interactions with his child if:

    • interventions involve active participation with the father’s own child

    • interventions involve observations of the father’s own child

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New Father-Specific Program

  • We designed and tested a father-specific program for first-time fathers of infants

    • Self-modeled video-taping and feedback

    • Delivered during home visits

  • The new program improved fathers’ skills in interaction with his infant

    • Increased cognitive growth fostering

    • Maintained sensitivity to his infants’ cues

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What is the Problem?

  • We do not know if the fathers found the program useful

  • We do not know whether some fathers experienced greater benefits from the new program

    • Could these fathers be targeted to receive the program?

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Father Involvement Theory

  • Includes three components:

    • Paternal engagement/direct interaction

    • Accessibility or availability to the child

    • Responsibility or efforts to ensure child is cared for and has necessary resources

  • The new program focused on paternal engagement

(Lamb, Pleck, Charnov, & Levine, 1985)

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Conceptual Framework

  • Generative fathering

    • Assumes fathers want to be involved with their children

    • Emphasizes fathers’ strengths and potential for growth

(Hawkins & Dollahite, 1997)

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Research Questions

  • Is the new program useful to fathers?

  • What are the characteristics of fathers who benefited from the program?

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  • 81 first-time biological fathers of healthy, singleton infants

  • Lived with the infant’s mother

  • Range of education levels from partial high school to graduate degrees

  • 85% European Canadian

  • Spoke primarily English to the infant

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  • Video tape made during home visits was scored using the 72-item Nursing Child Assessment Teaching Scale (NCATS)

    • Parent Domain Total = 50 items (scored yes/no)

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Handouts with Feedback

  • Reinforced verbal feedback

  • Topics:

    • Infant Cues - Things your baby might do when…..

    • Teaching Loop – Teaching Your Baby

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Is ready to learn

Look at your face

Reach out to you

Turn towards you




Stop moving

Needs a break or change

Turn head or eyes away



Pull away

Yawn or frown

Arch back

Pushing away

Put hands to mouth or behind ear

Things your baby might do when he/she:

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Teaching Your Baby

Babies learn when dads follow this sequence:

Alert Baby

Praise & Suggestions

Show & Explain

Give Baby Time

to Try

  • Use words that describe how to play with the toy.

  • Praise your baby’s attempts.

  • Give your baby a break if she or he is restless or fusses.

  • Smile, laugh or talk when your baby smiles or makes sounds.

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Was the Program Useful?

  • Structured interviews with fathers following the outcome home visit at 8 months

    • What was useful?

    • What would you change?

  • Responses transcribed

  • Content analysis

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Fathers enjoyed the focus on fathering

The program was feasible

  • Fathers liked:

    • the brief home visits

    • that the visits were scheduled to accommodate the family

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  • Fathers said their needs were different from mothers (who like group programs)

  • Fathers wanted home visits earlier and to last longer

  • Fathers wanted websites with discussion boards

  • Fathers suggested father-infant play groups and workshops when their child was older (at least 12 months)

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  • Self-modeled video taping and feedback increased awareness of specific behaviours to enhance play interactions

  • Handouts were useful reminders

  • Fathers liked to show the video tape to mothers

  • Fathers consistently viewed the play activity as a test and worked hard to help their infant succeed

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  • Demographic characteristics did not identify fathers (n = 4) who achieved the greatest increases in interaction scores

  • Sub-sample (n = 34) divided into marked (±1SD; ~4 points) positive and negative change groups

    • Demographic characteristics did not identify change in either group

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  • Fathers with positive change started with less skill in interaction than fathers with negative change

  • After controlling for baseline (5 month) interaction scores, demographic characteristics did not predict outcome (8 month) scores

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  • Fathers want educational programs designed specifically to meet their needs

  • A new brief educational program with demonstrated efficacy in a community sample of fathers is feasible and useful to fathers

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Future research

  • What is the impact of the program on later child language development?

  • Will the intervention work with fathers of vulnerable infants, such as those born preterm?

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Implication for Practice

  • The program may be useful in public health settings where programs for fathers are a priority

  • Caution is needed when generalizing these results to fathers with complex risk factors

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Your questions and comments…

Contact us:

[email protected]


[email protected]


Reference: Benzies, K., Magill-Evans, J., Harrison, M. J., MacPhail, S., & Kimak, K. (2008) Strengthening new fathers’ skills in interaction with their 5-month-old infants: Who benefits from a brief intervention? Public Health Nursing, 25(5), 431-439.