Despite robust evidence of fathers’ impact on children and mothers, engaging with fathers is one of the least well-explored and articulated aspects of parenting interventions. It is therefore critical to evaluate implicit and explicit biases manifested in current approaches to research, intervention, and policy.
We conducted a systematic database and a thematic hand search of the global literature on parenting interventions. Studies were selected from Medline, Psychinfo, SSCI, and Cochrane databases, and from gray literature on parenting programs, using multiple search terms for parent, father, intervention, and evaluation. We tabulated single programs and undertook systematic quality coding to review the evidence base in terms of the scope and nature of data reporting.
After screening 786 nonduplicate records, we identified 199 publications that presented evidence on father participation and impact in parenting interventions. With some notable exceptions, few interventions disaggregate ‘father’ or ‘couple’ effects in their evaluation, being mostly driven by a focus on the mother–child dyad. We identified seven key barriers to engaging fathers in parenting programs, pertaining to cultural, institutional, professional, operational, content, resource, and policy considerations in their design and delivery.
Barriers to engaging men as parents work against father inclusion as well as father retention, and undervalue coparenting as contrasted with mothering. Robust evaluations of father participation and father impact on child or family outcomes are stymied by the ways in which parenting interventions are currently designed, delivered, and evaluated. Three key priorities are to engage fathers and coparenting couples successfully, to disaggregate process and impact data by fathers, mothers, and coparents, and to pay greater attention to issues of reach, sustainability, cost, equity, and scale-up. Clarity of purpose with respect to gender-differentiated and coparenting issues in the design, delivery, and evaluation of parenting programs will constitute a game change in this field.