Center on the Developing Child

Innovation in Action

Very Cool Dads: Co-Creation in Action

Padres Muy Padres: A parenting program with dads, for dads

Part of the Aceleradora de Innovación para la Primera Infancia

A father from the Padres Muy Padres program cuddles his baby.

Child-rearing in Mexico, and many other parts of the world, has traditionally been considered a mother’s responsibility. Historically, fathers have been the breadwinners, spending more time working outside the home and less time with their children. As a result, many fathers feel that their bond with their babies and children could be much stronger. They want to be more involved in raising and nurturing their children, but they may not know how to be the supportive caregivers their children need.

Co-creation refers to bringing together different parties to produce a mutually-valued outcome. The FOI approach to innovation brings together researchers, practitioners, and community members in order to develop, implement, test, and adapt ideas.

The science of early childhood development tells us that responsive relationships with supportive adults promote healthy brain development in children and provide them with the buffering protection needed to prevent challenging experiences from producing a toxic stress response. To strengthen relationships between fathers and their infants, Padres Muy Padres (Very Cool Dads), a program based at Hospital Infantil de México Federico Gómez in Mexico City, enables low-income, working fathers who have demanding work schedules and children younger than 6 months old to take on a more active role in their babies’ lives. The program engages fathers in a combination of group coaching sessions and infant feeding and care workshops, all facilitated by other fathers. Padres Muy Padres aims to help the participating fathers connect more with their children, but also provides them with opportunities to establish supportive relationships with their peers.

Padres Muy Padres, a pilot project of the Aceleradora de Innovación para la Primera Infancia, one of the Center’s Latin American Innovation Clusters, is currently being tested and evaluated at the hospital with staff members who are fathers of young babies (birth to 6 months old).

Applying the IDEAS Framework: Co-Creation

[I]f they wanted to reach working fathers, they would need to create materials that would resonate with working fathers.

To ensure the program successfully engaged with working fathers, the Padres Muy Padres team followed the guiding principle of co-creation. They sought external feedback early in the development of the program’s materials, specifically in terms of who would present the materials to the fathers and facilitate the sessions. How would they effectively connect with the fathers in the program? How might a facilitator’s gender impact the fathers’ comfort and willingness to engage with the program? To answer these questions, the team hosted focus groups and found that the fathers were generally more receptive to working with fathers like themselves than with scientists, researchers, or physicians. Thus, the project team recruited and trained a hospital custodial worker who had older children to facilitate the sessions and workshops.

A father bathes his baby.

The Padres Muy Padres team originally designed PowerPoint slides for the facilitator to use during the sessions. The slides included information and methods consistent with the latest science on early childhood development—material that was very familiar to the program team’s professional staff. In the spirit of co-creation, however, the team was interested in the facilitator’s opinion of the materials. What he told them dramatically changed their program materials approach and design.

The father facilitator pointed out that his peers would probably not respond well to the unfamiliar PowerPoint format or to the language used on the slides. In fact, he said, using them could increase the risk that fathers would drop out of the program because the jargon-filled terminology might undermine their ability to participate meaningfully in activities and discussions. The facilitator told the team that, if they wanted to reach working fathers, they would need to create materials that would resonate with working fathers.

Working together with the facilitator, the team revised the materials and the way in which they would be presented to the fathers. For example, instead of using PowerPoint slides to discuss bathing, the facilitator brought in a doll and a baby bathtub for demonstration. Combined with more colloquial language, this hands-on approach allowed the participating fathers to practice actual infant care skills in a supportive, risk-free environment.

Lessons Learned

A father and his baby take part in the Padres Muy Padres program.

The Padres Muy Padres team’s training with the Center on the IDEAS Impact Framework had emphasized the importance of co-creation and working with diverse stakeholders to create a successful program. And, the team learned the value of co-creation firsthand when working with the father facilitator. Regardless of how scientifically accurate the team’s original materials were, the facilitator’s experience as a working father himself provided the team with the target audience’s perspective. By including the facilitator early in the materials design process, the Padres Muy Padres team recognized the value of working with key stakeholders to develop their program and materials. Ultimately, the facilitator’s suggested changes to the program’s language and delivery method strengthened the program’s recruitment, retention, and prospects for impact and sustainability. The facilitator’s expertise and perspective as a father allowed the participating fathers to connect with both their peer facilitator and the program content in a way that would not have been possible had the original materials been prepared and delivered by a team of doctors and researchers using PowerPoint slides.

What’s Next?

The collaborative environment established between the Padres Muy Padres research team and the father facilitator created a foundation for strong connections between later facilitators and participating fathers in the program. The team plans to nurture those connections by continuing to seek the perspectives of facilitators and fathers early in the program development stage as they create additional materials and experiment with new delivery platforms. Based on the fathers’ recommendations, for example, the team is preparing to test WhatsApp messages as a delivery mechanism in hopes that it will make the materials more readily accessible to the working fathers and enable them to interact with the materials at their own pace.