Dr. Carla Stover PI on R34 Grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Co-Investigator on R01 to Study Co-parenting Interventions Focus on Child Outcomes at USF Tampa and USF St. Petersburg

Dr. Carla Stover, Assistant Professor and clinical psychologist in the Department of Mental Health Law and Policy in the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, has been awarded an R34 grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to support further research into her Fathers for Change intervention.  An R34 grant is significant in that it provides support for the first stages of intervention development in preparation for a larger clinical trial.

Dr. Stover’s Fathers for Change intervention addresses the co-occurrence of substance abuse, domestic violence, and poor parenting for fathers of young children.  The research literature has clearly shown the relationship between substance abuse and intimate partner violence, as well as, child maltreatment and the deleterious effects these behaviors have on children.  However, research also has shown that children who have little or no contact with their fathers can have higher levels of depression and anxiety than children who had weekly, or more frequent, visits.  Hence, interventions that can address successfully substance abuse, domestic violence, and poor parenting could have major implications for the health of fathers, their co-parents and children.

Fathers for Change is a unique intervention that focuses on the paternal role throughout treatment.  The intervention combines attachment, family systems, and cognitive behavioral theory and techniques to decrease violence and aggression, alcohol and substance abuse, and negative parenting behaviors.  It utilizes the fathering role to increase motivation while teaching affect regulation, communication, and reflective functioning skills.  By increasing positive family interactions and activities, positive parenting behaviors, and improving co-parenting communication, Fathers for Change can help improve outcomes for families. 

As Dr. Stover explains, “Fathers for Change is unique in its focus on the paternal role throughout treatment, both in terms of the father-child and the co-parenting relationships. The central premise is that focus on men as fathers and increasing their feelings of competence and meaning within their parenting role, will provide motivation to change maladaptive patterns that have led to use of aggression and substances in the past.”

Dr. Stover’s grant allows her to develop a residential adaptation of the outpatient treatment she previously developed and studied.  This pilot is part of an ongoing collaboration with West Care, Inc.  The grant will provide additional support of the Fathers for Change intervention development and testing within West Care’s 6 month residential treatment program, Emerge, which works primarily with men who were offenders.  She notes, “Research has shown that integration of mothering focused services for women within residential treatment reduces relapse and improves outcomes, but this type of approach has not been tried in residential treatment for men.  This study will allow us to incorporate a fatherhood focused intervention into residential treatment for men and test the impact on outcomes for men and their families.  We anticipate lower relapse rates, reduced intimate partner violence and improved communication, and parenting.  If successful, this approach could be easily implemented into other residential treatment programs in the community.”

Phase I of the R34 is to modify and test the intervention with a small group of men.  Focus groups will be used to gather feedback from participants on the implementation of the intervention and whether the affect regulation, cognitive restructuring, reflective functioning, and communication skills were helpful.  These skills are key in reducing intimate partner violence and child maltreatment, and to prevent relapse.   Phase II, which will occur during years 2 and 3 of the grant, will be a small randomized trial, using the developed Fathers for Change Residential Treatment Application.  The trial will compare Fathers for Change against a parenting education program.  Dr. Stover anticipates 60 participants in Phase II, with the majority of treatment sessions delivered in residence, with 4 booster sessions post discharge.  Follow-up interviews will be conducted three months after completion of treatment. 

After this research project is completed, Dr. Stover hopes to have significant pilot data to write an R01, the next steps in conducting a larger research project on the effectiveness of the intervention.

Dr. Stover is also a co-investigator with Dr. James McHale, Director of the Family Study Center at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, on his recently awarded R01 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD).   Dr. McHale’s grant is to conduct a randomized controlled trial for his “Figuring It Out for the Child” (FIOC) prenatal co-parenting intervention for African American families.  Dr. McHale’s intervention has received support from key African American stakeholders in St. Petersburg, Florida's health and human service and faith-based communities as a way to improve communication and parenting skills among unmarried fathers and mothers to improve outcomes for their children. 

This is a significant study in that no empirically-validated prenatal interventions currently exist that successfully encourage unmarried fathers and mothers to intentionally create enduring alliances in their babies’ best interest.  As Dr. McHale explains, “The intervention addresses the importance of safe, healthy families for early infant development, the impact a cooperative and sustained co-parenting alliance can have in promoting positive infant development, challenges unmarried parents face cultivating a co-parenting alliance together when their commitment to one another as romantic or married partners is in doubt, and ways to surmount these obstacles, maintain rapport, and sustain a strong alliance.”

This is a much larger trial, with 150 families who will participate over a five-year period.  In addition to following up on the parents, the children will also receive a number of developmental assessments to determine the effects of the intervention on their development. “We expect increased father involvement, improved co-parenting, and enhanced infant development.”  Dr. McHale sees the next steps for research on the FIOC to be a multisite trial, “If outcomes are as predicted in this trial in St. Petersburg, we will next test the intervention in other communities.” 

The study will also explore whether focus on co-parenting in the prenatal period can prevent the emergence of intimate partner violence.  Pregnancy and soon after an infant’s birth are a heightened time of risk for violence.  The study will explore whether FIOC’s focus on building health communication skills can reduce use of situational violence in couples.  As Dr. Stover reports, “If we find lower rates of emergence of violence for those in the FIOC group, this could have significant implications for intimate partner violence prevention.  Less violence will greatly improve the overall health of the entire family. Intimate partner violence is transmitted from one generation to the next.  If we can interrupt that cycle before a new baby is born, the health benefits both mental and physical for that family are enormous.”

The College of Behavioral and Community Sciences at the University of South Florida enrolls nearly 2,200 students and includes the Departments of Child and Family Studies, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Criminology, Mental Health Law and Policy, and Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling as well as the School of Aging Studies and School of Social Work.  The Department of Mental Health Law and Policy conducts research on critical and emerging issues surrounding the funding, delivery, and outcomes of public behavioral services as well as issues arising in public health and civil and criminal justice systems.

The Family Study Center at USF St. Petersburg, directed by Dr. James McHale, is the home of both basic and applied research studies concerned with understanding, supporting, and advocating for families with young children. Since its inception, the Family Study Center has been a base for innovative new projects and initiatives to support coparenting and children’s development.

For more information on these studies, contact Dr. Stover (carlastover@usf.eduor Dr. McHale (jmchale@usfsp.edu).