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October 2018Vol. 19, No. 8Smartphones Encourage Fathers to Participate in Parent-Child Attachment Programs

A report from the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation within the Administration for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services discusses a smartphone application—DadTime—that was developed to encourage fathers to participate in a parent education program designed to build father-child attachment.

DadTime was developed as part of the Building Bridges and Bonds Study (B3), funded in 2015 by the Administration for Children and Families to help fathers become more involved in the lives of their young children. B3 is testing a variety of innovative approaches to help fathers strengthen their parenting skills and engagement with their young children.

B3 selected the Just Beginning parenting curriculum for its study because it is designed specifically for fathers and offers hands-on, experiential learning with immediate positive feedback as dads interact with their young children (ages 2 months through 3 years). Just Beginning teaches fathers how to follow their child's lead, notice actions and cues, and encourage or praise their child. The study is exploring whether fathers randomly assigned to the Just Beginning program will use the DadTime application and whether those offered it demonstrate higher attendance rates at the parenting classes.

DadTime was created with input and feedback from fathers engaged in B3. The application's wording order and presentation were based on the fathers' input and reactions. The DadTime development team sought answers to the following questions:

  • What language about parent-child engagement works best with fathers of young children?
  • What features on the phone application are intuitive for fathers?
  • What features interest fathers as prospective users of DadTime, and what changes might increase their interest?

The DadTime development team identified three distinct times as optimal communication windows during the curriculum: reminders to fathers the day before each session, follow-ups the day after a session, and check-ins the following weekend. The application includes exercises for planning how to get the father and his child to a session, opportunities to think about what went well at a session and what to try another time, prompts for rescheduling a session if needed, and suggested activities and games for fathers to engage their children. The application also features a "relationship tree" that sprouts leaves as fathers make progress with their children.

Future studies will look at how participants are using DadTime, how it has been implemented, whether fathers find it useful, and how it has affected attendance and participation outcomes.

Encouraging Attendance and Engagement in Parenting Programs: Developing a Smartphone Application With Fathers, for Fathers is available at (2,854 KB).