Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Research and Evaluation Newsletter - Issue 7

Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Research and Evaluation Newsletter
Issue 7
May 2020
Message from OPRE on COVID-19

As the human services field is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, OPRE appreciates the flexibility, patience, and creativity of our contractors and grantees, and our programmatic partners at the federal, state, local, and tribal levels. We hope to bring these same qualities to bear as we work together to plan practical adjustments to our work, such as moving in-person activities to virtual formats, delaying some activities, or learning how the pandemic is affecting ACF programs and populations. The mission of building knowledge to improve human services remains our guiding principle.

Information on COVID-19 and human services programs is available here:

Several ACF programs interact with parents and youth who are justice-involved in an effort to promote economic self-sufficiency and social well-being for them and their families. These programs can interact with families at multiple points of involvement, including initial contact with the justice system, during a period of incarceration in jail or prison, or after release from incarceration. Across ACF, we are implementing rigorous research and evaluation projects to better understand how to serve parents and youth who are justice-involved and their families.

This brief describes those ongoing projects, as well as ACF's past research and evaluation efforts related to, parents and youth who are justice-involved.

New Implementation Findings from the Building Bridges and Bonds (B3) Study

The Building Bridges and Bonds (B3) study, a federally funded evaluation led by MDRC that is testing innovative, evidence-informed programming for fathers, recently published two briefs that describe the implementation of the B3 study interventions in the context of existing fatherhood programs.

The first new brief, titled Implementing an Innovative Parenting Program for Fathers: Findings from the B3 Study, discusses findings from three fatherhood programs that implemented Just Beginning (JB), a program that involves a series of five sessions with fathers and their young children to build skills that support positive father-child interactions. Another new brief, Applying Cognitive-Behavioral Techniques to Employment Programming for Fathers: Findings from the B3 Study discusses findings from the three fatherhood programs that implemented Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Justice Involved Individuals Seeking Employment (CBI-Emp), which is a 20-session workshop series designed to support use of cognitive behavioral techniques to increase success in the workplace. The fatherhood programs in the B3 study incorporated these interventions into their existing menu of services.

Sometimes getting fathers to attend just the first session is enough to get them engaged. In the B3 study, fathers who were able to attend at least one session of the programs tested were usually able to progress through the sessions, ultimately receiving adequate dosage of the curricula (as defined by the intervention developers). Explore the JB and CBI-Emp reports to learn more!  


These briefs present a detailed description of the implementation of these interventions based on data from semi-structured interviews with staff members, focus groups with fathers, program observations, surveys administered at study baseline, and HMRF program management information systems. Each brief provides an overview of the intervention, describes the program settings in which each intervention was implemented, presents data on the fathers who participated in the intervention, and discusses the extent to which programs were able to engage fathers. The JB brief also discusses the engagement strategies programs employed to support fathers' participation with their children.


Read the full briefs to learn more about how programs implemented these innovative interventions and how fathers engaged with them in the context of existing fatherhood services.

In 2013, ACF awarded a grant to Temple University to support the Fatherhood Research and Practice Network (FRPN), which had three primary goals: to promote rigorous evaluation of fatherhood programs that serve fathers with low-income, to build evaluation capacity and collaboration among fatherhood researchers and program practitioners, and to disseminate fatherhood research findings to both research and practitioner audiences. In addition, the FRPN supported policy efforts to promote the inclusion of fathers in state programs and policies dealing with children and families.

The FRPN carried out this work in partnership with the Center for Policy Research in Denver, CO, over approximately six years (2013-2019) through 20 subawards to fatherhood organizations for fatherhood research, 11 awards to states to support state policy work, and three original research projects led by the FRPN co-directors. As a result of this work, the FRPN produced numerous research reports, briefs, and peer-reviewed publications, and held many webinars, presentations, and learning community calls to share and discuss research findings with research and practitioner communities and to support rigorous fatherhood research. 

Research supported by the FRPN has addressed many important fatherhood research topics. Most recently, the FRPN released two reports detailing findings from two studies that examined the use of text messaging to support father engagement and outcomes. The FRPN also held a webinar in December to discuss findings from four projects exploring the implications of public policies for fathers and fatherhood programs.  


Visit the FRPN website Visit disclaimer page to learn more about the FRPN's work and to access the research products described here. The FRPN also shares their work via a bi-monthly newsletter, The FRPN Blueprint, which you can subscribe to on the FRPN's website.  

Do you want to learn about how responsible fatherhood (RF) programs provide intimate partner violence (IPV)-related services? Click here for the recent report, "Preventing and Addressing Intimate Violence when Engaging Dads (PAIVED): Challenges, Successes, and Promising Practices from Responsible Fatherhood Programs" from the PAIVED project. This report also discusses challenges and successes related to providing these services, promising practices, and areas for growth.

Talking about IPV with dads can be tricky. But, programs can try to focus on the consequences of IPV for their children: it may be an effective way to engage fathers in IPV discussions. Read more here!
The data for PAIVED come from interviews with 16 fatherhood program staff and 11 staff from organizations that address IPV. Here are some key findings:
  • RF program staff view preventing and addressing IPV as essential to achieving their program goals, noting that violence is closely interrelated to other challenges faced by fathers.
  • Staff spoke about the delicate balance between keeping participating fathers engaged in RF programming and pushing them to seek help in instances when they have used violence.
  • Curricula used by RF programs generally include some IPV education, though the amount and type of content vary. All curricula reviewed, including those from the broader field that were not currently used by the RF programs in this study, focused on addressing fathers' perpetration of IPV, but not on fathers as survivors.
  • RF programs create safe, non-shaming spaces and facilitate discussions about the consequences of IPV for children, both of which are central to the engagement of fathers in IPV education.
  • RF programs screen routinely for IPV at intake; however, they reported that screening at intake is not the optimal strategy to identify fathers in need of services because fathers often do not see themselves as users of violence, and because a trusting relationship with program staff, which supports disclosure, has not yet been established.
  • RF programs have diverse protocols for responding to disclosures of IPV and addressing safety. Some RF programs focus on reporting to authorities whereas others make referrals.
  • Significant barriers to preventing and addressing IPV among fathers include stigma, fathers' and their communities' normalization of violence, and lack of free and accessible programs for men who use violence.
  • Partnerships between RF programs and local domestic violence organizations that are built on respect, strong relationships with shared goals, and trust are instrumental and allow for mutual learning.
  • Teaching fathers about the consequences of IPV for children's well-being may be an effective strategy to motivate fathers to better engage in IPV services.

Research has shown that Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education (HMRE) programs and Responsible Fatherhood (RF) programs often face implementation challenges in areas such as recruitment, program completion, and engagement during program sessions. To help address these challenges, OPRE launched two projects that will develop and test promising implementation solutions: Strengthening the Implementation of Marriage and Relationship Programs (SIMR) and Strengthening the Implementation of Responsible Fatherhood Programs (SIRF).  


SIMR and SIRF will each engage in a series of short learning cycles to pilot potential solutions to common implementation challenges. During these short learning cycles, each project will collect and analyze data on pilot tests, refine the solutions that were tested, and test the solutions again to adjust strategies most effectively.


The SIMR and SIRF teams will partner with HMRE and RF programs to conduct this work. The teams will collaborate closely with program partners at all stages of the learning cycles to ensure that the solutions are relevant and adapted to each program's context. To identify common implementation challenges, both projects have begun to engage experts and stakeholders in the field through phone calls, interactive webinars, and review of research literature and grantee performance data. Each project will then engage researchers and practitioners to brainstorm creative and innovative solutions to those challenges.


What is next for SIMR? The SIMR team is compiling information from the literature, current grantees, experts, and stakeholders to develop a list of common HMRE implementation challenges and solutions. Over the summer, they will begin prioritizing this list and developing rapid-cycle designs to test potential solutions. 


What is next for SIRF? This spring, SIRF will meet with other stakeholders, including fatherhood programs and fathers as well as federal and community stakeholders, to inform project priorities and future learning cycle initiatives. 

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