The Fathers and Sons Project is a unique program for African American fathers and their 8-12 year old sons who are not living in the same home. It aims to strengthen the bonds between fathers and sons and promote positive health behaviors. This community-based participatory research project aims to prevent negative health behaviors such as substance use, violence, and early sexual initiation among African American adolescent males.
The intervention involves engaging non-resident fathers and their sons in mutually beneficial activities to enhance their relationships. The curriculum focuses on effective communication, cultural awareness, and skill building with the goal to enhance parenting behaviors and put fathers in a position to be protectors of their sons.
Originally funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Fathers and Sons program is designed to prevent substance use, violence and early sexual initiation among African-American boys ages 8-12 who do not live with their fathers. "Almost 70 percent of African-American children live apart from their biological fathers at some point in their lives. This places them at risk for engaging in risky behaviors often resulting in poor health outcomes," said Cleopatra Howard Caldwell, principal investigator of the study and director of the Center for Research on Ethnicity Culture and Health at SPH.
The Fathers and Sons program encourages positive health outcomes for the boys by actively involving nonresident fathers in their lives. There are three main program components — improving parent-child communication, enhancing cultural awareness and strengthening parenting skills. The program was developed by a community-research partnership that included several community-based organizations in Flint, the Genesee County Health Department and SPH. It has been successful in influencing several factors that play an important role in reducing risky behaviors in youth. The program helped fathers spend more time monitoring their sons' activities and it improved their communication about sex, violence and racial issues, Caldwell said. Improved risk communication was linked to less aggressive behaviors in their sons and sons' intentions to avoid violence in the future. Further, fathers involved with the program were more satisfied with their parenting skills than those who did not participate.
Parenting and Men's Health: The Utility of the Fathers and Sons Program
The Chicago Fathers and Sons Study now addresses substance use, depression and use of services among African-American nonresident fathers, in addition to preventing risky youth behaviors. The study will be conducted with 400 families in the Washington Park community, using a randomized control design to test the effectiveness of the original parenting program compared to a family-based physical activity and nutrition program.
Findings will be important for families, communities, clinicians, interventionists and policymakers concerned with reducing disparities in men's health. The program was developed with the goal of determining the potential role of parenting for improving African-American boys' and men's health. Our ultimate goal is to produce a national model that can be used as part of family-based programming to improve health, especially for vulnerable populations.
In addition to SPH, the new study brings together the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration, Columbia University's School of Social Welfare, the K.L.E.O. Community Life Center in Washington Park, and the Flint Odyssey House-Health Awareness Center representing the Fathers and Sons Steering Committee from Flint.