Establishing a Strong Foundation for Cultural Engagement

We make sure that everyone is welcome. You have to make your agency inviting; it must look diverse. We use photos … You need to understand the culture of your clients. You should never get to the point where you think you know their culture. We want to always be in a position of learning.” - Wallace McLaughlin, Fathers and Families Center

Incorporating cultural competency into fatherhood programs is important because it creates a stronger foundation to build relationships and respect with the fathers you serve. Those who work in the fatherhood field generally agree that as much as possible, fatherhood program staff should reflect the cultural populations being served. For example, when working with Latino fathers and recent immigrants or refugees, having bilingual staff is important. Programs also should have access to interpreters who have experience with major dialects in the community.

Programs can seem more relevant and welcoming when fathers see staff members who look like them, speak the same language, and share key cultural experiences. However, those similarities lose significance if staff members seem aloof, judgmental, or insensitive. This page can help your fatherhood program better understand how incorporating cultural competence influences participant engagement with fatherhood programs.

Tips & Best Practices

  • Healthy parenting can have different definitions depending on the cultural background. Despite these cultural differences, the CDC found that most parents from different cultures have similar ideas and definitions of what is good and bad parenting behavior. Your fatherhood program can use these findings to inform programming for a variety of fatherhood practices and enhance engagement.
  • Fatherhood programs can serve culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Learning to address the needs of specific populations can strengthen the accessibility of a fatherhood program and increase engagement rates.
  • Cultural and personal, lived experiences have a huge impact on the value systems people follow. Parenting practices are largely influenced by values and it may be a challenge to connect to parenting styles and challenges that are different. Your fatherhood program should take the time to research general or universal values of different communities to better understand the participants they may be working with.
Spotlight On


Started in Louisville, Kentucky in the 1970s, the Council on Prevention and Education: Substances (COPES) has evolved into a nationally recognized prevention agency. COPES has published its program results in peer-reviewed scientific journals across the fields of substance abuse prevention, HIV prevention, violence prevention, prison recidivism, and family strengthening.

COPES manages the Enhancing Community Connections (ECC) Project. ECC is a collaborative community-based effort funded by SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention to reduce the risk of substance abuse and HIV among Black/African American youth and young adults ages 13-24 in Louisville, Kentucky. The project implements a combination of evidence-based community level (environmental) and individual level preventive interventions including COPES’s Creating Lasting Family Connections curriculum.


How can fatherhood programs be sure they make a culturally relevant impact?

Research suggests that gaining credibility, recruiting in the communities you work with, using culturally relevant materials, and incorporating cultural traditions into programming can help ensure cultural relevance.

What makes an effective fatherhood practitioner?

The most effective fatherhood practitioners are those who have empathy, can connect with an individual as a person, observe and ask questions, and take proper actions to ensure they are knowledgeable and understanding of the variety of cultural backgrounds.

How do values influence behavior?

The Executive Director of the COPES program in Louisville, KY recognized that his own program had staff and participants with many different cultures and backgrounds that had a great influence on their beliefs. Cultural differences impact how people view the world and the values they hold.  Fatherhood programs should recognize differences in values and engage in thought and conversation about how values should be respected and can be shared.

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