The Father Factor

Don’t Leave Out This Key Ingredient for A Successful Group-Based Program

Posted by Erik Vecere

Most Recent Fatherhood Posts

Nov 10, 2021


If you run a group-based fatherhood program, you know the ingredients for success: great facilitators, an evidence-based curriculum – such as 24/7 Dad® or InsideOut Dad® – and multiple marketing tactics that motivate dads to attend.

But, an often-overlooked ingredient is how you deliver your program.

A great way to create a “tastier” experience for your dads is to use closed enrollment.

Closed enrollment requires dads to join on session 1 together, then complete all sessions as a cohort in the order in which they appear in the curriculum. Open enrollment – in contrast – is where dads can join on any session.

Open enrollment can hinder your program outcomes in several ways, including:

  • Dads unable to process critical issues that were introduced earlier (e.g. starting on the topic “working with mom and co-parenting” before addressing deeper-rooted issues such as: family history, what it means to be a man, handling and expressing emotions, and effective communication).
  • Dads not getting to know each other as well.
  • Facilitators unable to administer pre- and post-assessment surveys during every session.
  • More difficult for facilitators to manage problem participants (e.g. monopolizers, disruptors, etc.)
  • More difficult for facilitators to move groups through the 5 stages of group development (e.g. forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning).

Moreover, a study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research found that participation and retention was much higher in closed enrollment delivery (referred to as “integrated cohort”) versus open enrollment delivery (referred to as “open-entry”).

While closed enrollment is the gold standard for group dynamics, it also presents some challenges, including:

  • Dads having to wait until the next program cycle begins, which can be 3-4 months. By the time the next cycle comes around, those dads may no longer be motivated to attend.
  • Some partners (e.g. judges, state departments of social services, etc.) may require immediate entry into your program for their clients.
  • The need to stagger multiple groups that overlap and run concurrently, which requires more staff time and resources.

So, what can you do to offer closed enrollment when you run into these – or similar – challenges?

I’m glad you asked!

Here are a few tactics to consider:

  • Reduce the number of meetings needed to conduct all 12 sessions -By reducing the number of sessions (e.g. covering 2 or 3 sessions per week over 4 or 6 weeks instead of once per week for 12 weeks), dads won’t have to wait as long between cycles to join. Check out our free ebook, "How to Delivery 24/7 Dad® in 4 Weeks" here.
  • Leverage dads who completed the program by training them to be co-facilitators -This builds capacity to run additional cycles and run them more frequently.
  • Offer other services and resources to bridge the gap until the next cycle -Explore other ways to keep dads engaged while they wait (e.g. case management, events, self-paced materials like: brochures and discussion guides).
  • Educate partners that require immediate enrollment – Presenting the reasons that closed enrollment will benefit the dads – and thereby your partners – can help your partners be more flexible on when their referrals enroll. They can reinforce the importance of attending even if the dads have to wait for enrollment.
  • Partner with other agencies -Explore partnerships with agencies whose staff/volunteers could be leveraged to offer additional program cycles.
  • Use virtual delivery - Look for ways to leverage virtual delivery to increase the number of program cycles offered.

A successful fatherhood program requires a blend of many ingredients – miss one and it won’t taste as good to the dads. To serve up the best dish possible, stir in some closed enrollment! 

Do you offer closed or open enrollment delivery for your fatherhood programs?

If you offer closed enrollment, what tactics have you used to address the challenges listed above?

If you offer open enrollment, which tactic best addresses the challenges you face?

Learn more about the Father Engagement Academy by National Fatherhood Initiative

Topics: Featured, General Fatherhood Program Resources, NFI-Specific Programs & Resources, State & Local Agencies, Recruit & Retain Dads

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