Engaging Fathers & Family Members in EI Services

Posted in Disability Early Childhood  |  Tagged ,

by Faith Kretzer, Ashley Rubalcava, and N’Zinga Townes (GU CEI’23)

There are limited statistics available regarding fathers and father figures’ engagement in early intervention (EI) services. Fathers and father figures may include biological or adoptive fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers who are raising their grandchildren, uncles who are raising nieces and nephews, and other males who take on a role that of a father (ACF Family Room Blog, 2013). One available statistic reported that 321 fathers were involved with Head Start programs in the state of Maryland for 2021 (NHSA, 2021).

            The description of family has expanded over the years. Family structures may be described as a nuclear family, blended family, single-parent families, extended families, stepfamilies, and grandparent families (Trying Together, 2023).  In 2019, 4% of children reportedly did not live with either parent while roughly 2.1% of these children resided with their grandparents only (Anderson et al., 2022). Of all grandparents caring for grandchildren, most caregivers are grandfathers (Avielle, 2018). This information was reiterated in an expert interview which emphasized that more children who attend Head Start in Washington County, Maryland were being raised by their grandparents (Angles, 2023). This is intriguing because 93% of evaluated parenting interventions available globally for children from birth to three were exclusively focused on mothers without regard for father or father figures (Jeong et al., 2021).

A father with a child who has received EI services in various states and was not included in his child’s services used his experience to provide recommendations for both fathers and EI providers. He suggests that fathers need to: a) remind themselves that they are not an accessory to a family, b) ground themselves and be present for their child and partner, and c) trust their gut to ask questions or speak up in support of their child (Anonymous, 2023).

Providers should hold fathers and family members accountable to participate in EI services (2023). Providers should assume that fathers, like all family members are capable and responsible and emphasize their importance as both a caregiver and partner (2023). Although there are many barriers to engaging fathers and family members in EI services, there are strategies and resources to help providers increase engagement. The National Training & Technical Assistance Center for Child, Youth , and Family Mental Health has developed the Fatherhood & Father Figure Curriculum. This is a great tool for providers to learn how to increase authentic engagement, learn the purpose of this type of engagement, and acquire a vast set of resources they can share with fathers and father figures in their practice. The information found in this curriculum can help providers check their biases, be intentional about their engagement practices, and have the information needed to educate and empower their families. One of the provided resources discusses how to apply a whole-family approach which, “links services for fathers with services for their children and other family members to increase program impacts and strengthen outcomes for children and families” (NRFC, n.d.). Other resources cover topics such as emotional needs and co-regulation of fathers, COVID-19 & fatherhood, fathers within family systems, and more! Including fathers, father figures, and family members in a child’s life is increasingly important to support the health and success of the entire family.


ACF Family Room Blog. (2013). Father figures making a difference. Administration for children & families. Retrieved from https://www.fatherhood.gov/dadtalk-blog/father-figures-making-difference

Anderson, L., Hemez, P., Kreider, R. (2022). Living arrangements of children:2019. U.S. Department of Commerce. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2022/demo/p70-174.pdf

Angles, S. (EI Provider). Personal interview. 21 February 2023.

Anonymous (Father Expert). Personal interview. 29 March 2023.

Avielle, R. (2018). “It’s parenting whether you’re the grandparent or parent”: Grandfathers’ experience raising grandchildren. National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse. Retrieved from https://www.fatherhood.gov/research-and-resources/its-parenting-whether-youre-grandparent-or-parent-grandfathers-experiences.

Jeong, J., Franchett, E., Ramos de Oliveira, C., Rehmani, K., Yousafzai, A. (2021). Parenting interventions to promote early child development in the first three years of life: A global systematic review and meta-analysis. PLOS Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1003602

National Head Start Association (NHSA). (2023). 2021Maryland Head Start Profile. Retrieved from https://earlychildhood.marylandpublicschools.org/system/files/filedepot/19/2021-head-start-fact-sheet-maryland.pdf

National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse (NRFC) (n.d.). Applying Whole Family Approaches in Responsible Fatherhood Programs. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families Office of Family Assistance. http://www.fatherhood.gov/ 

Trying Together. (2023). Types of family structures. Retrieved from https://tryingtogether.org/dap/types-of-family-structures/