Fathers and Sons program launching in Chicago

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ANN ARBOR—A proven University of Michigan program to strengthen the father-son bond, with a goal to reduce risky youth behaviors, will now be conducted in Chicago.

The U-M School of Public Health has been awarded a five-year, $3 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health for research to determine if the Fathers and Sons Program, which was successfully developed and implemented in Flint, Mich., can make an impact on African-American fathers and sons in the country’s third largest city.

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 the U-M School of Public Health.

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 the U-M School of Public Health.

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.

African-American men face disproportionate poor health outcomes in a number of areas when compared to men of other racial and ethnic groups. 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.

This research fills a need for preventing youth risky behaviors while enhancing men’s health using a family-strengths approach, Caldwell said. Findings will be important for families, communities, clinicians, interventionists and policymakers concerned with reducing disparities in men’s health.

“We developed this program 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,” Caldwell said.

In addition to U-M School of Public Health, 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.