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June 2018Vol. 19, No. 5Responsible Fatherhood Programs Address Complex Needs of Low-Income Men

Children who grow up without fathers are more likely to experience poor outcomes in areas such as social-emotional adjustment, education, and mental health. These negative effects have been shown to be diminished by increasing father involvement and improving the quality of father-child interactions. A recent report developed for the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, an office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, examined the characteristics and opinions of fathers enrolled in four responsible fatherhood programs included in the Parents and Children Together evaluation. The report addressed the following questions:

  • What were fathers' circumstances at their point of enrollment in the programs, and what were their experiences, needs, and concerns?
  • How did the programs address these experiences, needs, and concerns?
  • By way of participation, how did the fathers respond to the programs and services?

A total of 5,522 fathers enrolled in one of the four fatherhood programs between 2012 and 2015 took part in a survey upon enrollment. The evaluators then conducted three rounds of annual in-person interviews with a subset of fathers from each fatherhood program. Evaluators collected additional data from  program staff during two rounds of site visits, father focus-group findings, and programs' reports on fathers' involvement and participation.

Key study findings include the following:

  • Many fathers reported that they had lived difficult lives prior to becoming fathers, including being victims of abuse and neglect during childhood and adolescence, growing up without their own fathers, and experiencing housing and employment instability.
  • Many fathers reported that fatherhood was motivation for them to turn their lives around for the sake of their children and themselves.
  • Fathers reported that the programs offered support and services that were helpful in meeting their needs, including helping them become better, more involved parents and teaching them employment readiness and job-seeking skills.
  • Fathers who participated in healthy marriage and relationship support workshops reported learning useful communication and conflict management skills.
  • Fathers were frustrated that their child support orders were not in line with their actual earnings and employment, leading them to have difficulty supporting themselves.
  • Fathers wanted more help with their coparenting relationships, which were mostly conflicted and made it hard for them to be involved with their children.
  • On average, each father participated in 45 hours of fatherhood programming. Most of the time was spent on economic stability programs, followed by parenting/coparenting and personal development programs.

The report also offers the following recommendations on how to improve fatherhood programs:

  • To improve participation, programs should offer daily group-based services rather than weekly open-entry services.
  • Employ program graduates to engage fathers in workshops so they can relate to other fathers who have overcome similar hardships.
  • Provide ways to help fathers maintain their visitation privileges, parenting-time arrangements, or joint custody.
  • To ensure fathers participate in economic stability programs, have fathers engage in self-directed tailored activities each day until they find employment.
  • Explore opportunities to increase assistance for child support modifications, and more.

The report, Parents and Children Together: The Complex Needs of Low-Income Men and How Responsible Fatherhood Programs Address Them, is available at (3,940 KB)