Optimising child outcomes from parenting interventions: fathers’ experiences, preferences and barriers to participation.


BACKGROUND: Early childhood interventions can have both immediate and long-term positive effects on cognitive, behavioural, health and education outcomes. Fathers are underrepresented in interventions focusing on the well-being of children. However, father participation may be critical for intervention effectiveness, especially for parenting interventions for child externalising problems. To date, there has been very little research conducted to understand the low rates of father participation and to facilitate the development of interventions to meet the needs of fathers. This study examined fathers’ experiences of, and preferences for, parenting interventions as well as perceptions of barriers to participation. It also examined how these factors were associated with child externalising behaviour problems, and explored the predictors of participation in parenting interventions. METHODS: A community sample of 1001 fathers of children aged 2-16 years completed an online survey about experiences with parenting interventions, perceived barriers to participation, the importance of different factors in their decision to attend, and preferred content and delivery methods. They also completed ratings of their child’s behaviour using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. RESULTS: Overall, 15% of fathers had participated in a parenting intervention or treatment for child behaviour, with significantly higher rates of participation for fathers of children with high versus low levels of externalising problems. Fathers rated understanding what is involved in the program and knowing that the facilitator is trained as the two most important factors in their decision to participate. There were several barriers to participation that fathers of children with high-level externalising problems were more likely to endorse, across practical barriers and help-seeking attitudes, compared to fathers of children with low-level externalising problems. Almost two-thirds of fathers of children with high-level externalising behaviour had not participated in a parenting intervention or treatment. The only significant predictors of intervention participation were severity of child externalising behaviour problems and child age. CONCLUSIONS: The findings have important implications for services seeking to increase father engagement and highlight a number of strategies to enhance the promotion and delivery of parenting interventions to fathers. These strategies include more public health messaging about parenting programs and the importance of father participation.