Enhancing social support to improve child involvement among low-income fathers: A randomized-controlled trial of Circle of Parents

Project: Research project


Children who experience positive father-child relationships have improved well-being across a range of outcomes including healthier socio-emotional development, fewer problem and risky health behaviors, and improved academic outcomes. Over recent years numerous federal, state, and private initiatives have emphasized the need to prioritize father involvement. The growing number of children born into impoverished households and communities only compounds daily challenges and parenting stress faced by low-income fathers. Further, given demographic shifts over recent decades, many new fathers today, particularly low-income African-American fathers, did not grow up with a father in the home. The need for effective programs that can successfully recruit fathers, retain them, and improve positive child involvement has never been greater. Circle of Parents is a mutual aid, self-help parent support group model designed to prevent child maltreatment and strengthen families in communities. Circle of Parents seeks to improve parent functioning by directly enhancing known protective factors. Circle of Parents is unique in that fathers-only groups have been widely implemented in the United States since the program’s inception. The existing evaluation research is promising but is limited due to the use of single-group retrospective self-report surveys, a relatively weak study design. The primary aim of this study is to address this significant gap in knowledge and to focus on father-only programs. Keeping fathers engaged with services is arguably the greatest challenge facing parenting interventions. Thus, the secondary aim of this study is to explore recruitment, engagement, and retention. This study is a community-based partnership between the UNC School of Social Work, Prevent Child Abuse-North Carolina, and WAGES community action agency. We will conduct a randomized-controlled trials of the Circle of Parents intervention recruiting 112 fathers participating in Head Start/Early Head Start services through WAGES. Program efficacy will be assessed by comparing changes in parenting protective factors measured using standardized instruments between the treatment and control groups. Semi-structured interviews with the treatment group will assess barriers and facilitators to program engagement and retention.
Effective start/end date11/15/144/30/17


  • Center for Policy Research


social support
low income
emotional development
evaluation research
federal state
number of children
health behavior
social work