Kids Matter recently attended a talk by Professors Philip and Carolyn Pape Cowan, who are internationally acclaimed for their work on family interventions and developing couple group interventions to strengthen family relationships. The key focus of the Professors’ commentary is that the inclusion of fathers in ‘parenting interventions’ is essential to the strengthening of families.
The Professors Cowan have spent over thirty years studying parenting and developing parenting support programmes in the United States and have been involved in a plethora of longitudinal studies that have informed the point: that ignoring fathers and couple relationships in parenting interventions misses the potential protective or buffering resources for the family. Parenting interventions designed for both parents have a stronger effect than interventions for fathers only or mothers only.
With a positively involved father, kids do better on every imaginable scale; academically, socially, and with their behaviour problems.
The Cowans have thus spent an exponential amount of time developing parenting support programmes in the United States that are designed to include mums and dads – couples preferably.
A common rebuttal to this framework is that there are so many single mothers to focus on in our line of work. This is true but most mums are, in fact, raising a child with someone who acts as a co-parent (whether an uncle, grandfather, grandmother, or father living separately), these co-parenting figures are potential resources for the child to learn and develop, so should not be ignored. Essentially, the notion of ‘parent’ has to be broadened in order to reach the people and family members who are impacting the lives of children in our society.
Kids Matter is keen to be part of the conversation about how best to go about working with the couple. We are well aware of the need to engage whole families as well as the need to include fathers in our parenting programmes. We have started a prison ministry that is currently focused on fathers and one of our facilitators has started a group for dads.
It’s often difficult to get dads to the table – many aren’t present or the relationship with the mother of their child might be strained, which makes the notion of ‘couples intervention’ quite difficult. But to the “men won’t come” response, the Professors Cowan say that men will come, if you work hard at it! Hire men as recruiters. Recruit families where men are (soccer games, malls). Make the intervention setting more flexible (e.g., open times) and father friendly (e.g., male staff, pictures on walls, brochures).
Kids Matter is up for the challenge!
If you would like to read the full summary of the informal briefing and discussion with Professors Cowan and Cowan (which includes details of the studies mentioned as well as further statistics and information regarding couples intervention) please contact us and we can provide you with notes collated by The Centre for Social Justice.