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- Published: 2020
- How did HMRF programs recruit and serve clients?
- How did grantees staff HMRF programs, and what implementation challenges did programs face?
- What were the characteristics of clients who enrolled in HMRF programs and how did their characteristics change from the beginning to the end of the program?
Healthy families help children thrive, but many families experience instability and parental absence. Since 2005, Congress has funded $150 million each year in healthy marriage (HM) and responsible fatherhood (RF) grants to support the long-term success of children and families. The Office of Family Assistance (OFA) within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has awarded and overseen three cohorts of these grants (2006–2011, 2011–2015, and 2015–2020). HM grantees promote healthy marriage and relationships through eight legislatively authorized activities, such as marriage and relationship education. RF grantees’ legislatively authorized activities promote responsible parenting, healthy marriage, and economic stability. OFA works with ACF’s Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation to conduct research on how to best serve families through these grants.
This report describes the 2015 cohort of 85 HMRF grantees, which were awarded five-year grants in September 2015. It covers their operations from July 2016 through March 2019. The report summarizes characteristics of the grantees, the clients they served, the services they provided, and ways clients have changed from the beginning to the end of the program.
This work is part of Fatherhood and Marriage Local Evaluation (FaMLE) Cross-Site Project, led by OPRE in collaboration with OFA. ACF has partnered with Mathematica to conduct the FaMLE Cross-Site project.
Information on HMRF programs to date has typically focused on a small number of grantees and programs. This report combined data across the 2015 HMRF grantees to better understand the programs, their successes and challenges, and the clients they serve. The report drew on data from a management information system called nFORM (Information, Family Outcomes, Reporting, and Management). All grantees are required to use the system to collect and report performance measure data, which OFA uses to monitor grantee performance and progress. Understanding the current programs can inform future program services, development, and investments.
Key Findings and Highlights
The HMRF grantees serve six client populations specified by OFA:
- HM adult individuals: Adults who enrolled in an HM program without a partner, regardless of whether they were in a romantic relationship.
- HM adult couples: Adults who enrolled in an HM program with their romantic partner. The program served both partners. In this report, we generally showed results for individuals in the population, unless otherwise noted.
- HM youth: Youth (ages 13 to 30) who enrolled in an HM program; programs might be offered in schools (such as part of a health curriculum) or other settings.
- RF community fathers: Adults who enrolled in an RF program offered in the community.
- RF community couples: Adults who enrolled in an RF program with another individual, who could be their romantic partner or coparent of their child. The program served both partners. In this report, we generally showed results for individuals in the population, unless otherwise noted.
- RF incarcerated fathers: Adults who were incarcerated and to be released within three to nine months or had been recently released (up to six months earlier) and enrolled in an RF program. Programs were often offered in a prison or jail.
Recruitment and enrollment
- In the roughly three-year period covered in this report, grantees enrolled more than 150,000 clients into their programs. HM programs enrolled 29,432 adult individuals, 31,500 adult clients in couples, and 45,382 youth. RF programs enrolled 30,871 fathers living in the community, 1,975 clients in couples living in the community, and 11,074 incarcerated fathers.
- Partnerships with community agencies—such as hospitals, health clinics, schools, and child support agencies—were the cornerstone of grantees’ recruitment efforts. Almost all grantees reported doing on-site recruitment at community agencies and receiving referrals from them. Other common recruiting and advertising methods were word of mouth, sharing flyers, and using social media marketing.
- HM adult individuals and clients in couples most commonly enrolled to learn how to improve their personal relationships. For RF clients, the top reason for enrolling was to learn how to be a better parent.
- About half of HM adult clients were younger than 35. They were racially and ethnically diverse, and one-half to two-thirds were women, depending on the client population. Most HM clients who were enrolled in programs for couples were employed, but most clients who were enrolled in programs for individuals or youth were not.
- Most HM couples were married or had a steady romantic partner; in contrast, almost half of adult individual clients were single.
- RF clients were typically male, and racially and ethnically diverse. (Women and mothers who met the eligibility requirements could also participate in services.) About half were younger than 35. At program enrollment, most RF clients reported being unemployed, and they reported a range of challenges to finding and keeping a good job.
- Most fathers were in a romantic relationship when they enrolled in the program. They had about two biological or adoptive children, on average.
- The primary service for both HM and RF grantees was group-based workshops, which ranged from one day to a few months in length. Under the 2015 funding opportunity announcement, grantees were also required to offer case management (unless they received an exemption from ACF). In case management, clients received individualized attention and might receive referrals to other services.
- In HM programs, almost all enrolled adult individual (94 percent) and youth (93 percent) clients, and more than half of clients in adult couples (52 percent) participated in at least one workshop or case management meeting. Both members of an adult couple were required to attend a workshop session for either partner’s attendance to count. Case management meetings or other individualized service contacts were counted for either partner in a couple.
- Adult individuals and youth typically participated in HM programs for about five weeks, from the time of their first substantive service contact or workshop to their last. The typical duration of participation for adult couples was lower than for other HM populations because almost half of enrolled couples did not participate in any service.
- Among HM clients who participated in at least one workshop session, participation typically ranged from 12 hours (youth and adult individuals) to 15 hours (adult couples).
- Almost all incarcerated (94 percent) and community (88 percent) RF clients participated in case management or workshop services. Clients typically participated in RF programs for five to six weeks, from their first substantive service contact or workshop to their last.
- Among clients who participated in any workshop, community fathers typically attended 26 hours of workshops, and incarcerated fathers attended 24 hours.
Program staffing and implementation challenges
- In most HM and RF programs, grantees employed a mix of managerial and supervisory staff, case managers, and workshop facilitators.
- More than half of facilitation and case management staff had at least a bachelor’s degree. For most HM programs, more than half of managers or supervisors had advanced degrees. HM grantees were more likely than RF grantees to report a majority of managers or supervisors with this level of education.
- The frequency with which staff met with supervisors was consistently high. Staff training was common early in the grant period, but declined over time.
- The most common implementation challenges reported by HM and RF grantees were client attendance and completion of services, and collecting clients’ data. Few HM or RF grantees reported struggling to keep participants engaged during sessions, to ensure facilitators understood content, or to implement workshop curricula with fidelity.
Clients' changes over time in the program
- Adult HM clients reported positive changes in their relationships from the beginning to the end of the program, including more support and affection and greater satisfaction with their relationship. Adult clients also reported improvements in coparenting.
- Youth’s attitudes and expectations about relationships, such as whether they expected to have a child before marriage, generally remained stable from the beginning to the end of the program.
- Adults’ economic well-being generally improved from the beginning to the end of the program, according to self-reports. More adults were employed at program exit and had less difficulty paying their bills. However, job barriers worsened: the average number of reported barriers, such as not having reliable transportation, increased.
- HM clients reported positive feelings about the program. Most of them believed the HM program helped them a lot, and they reported improvements or greater confidence in their parenting skills, handling of money, conflict management, and relationship skills and understanding.
- Community fathers reported improvements in parenting from the beginning to the end of the program, such as increased contact with their children. They also said they were doing more age-appropriate activities with their children, such as helping with a bedtime routine or homework.
- Fathers were less likely to say they were in a relationship at the end of the program compared to the beginning. However, community fathers in relationships at program entry and exit reported improvements in how they and their partner handled conflicts.
- Fathers’ economic well-being improved from the beginning to the end of the program, according to self-reports. More fathers were employed, and fathers said they were having less difficulty paying their bills. However, they faced more barriers to finding and keeping a job from the beginning to the end of the program.
- Most RF clients believed their RF program helped them a lot. At program exit, they had greater confidence in their parenting, relationship, and financial management skills, as well as their ability to find work.
- Although these changes over time were generally favorable, they were often modest in size and might not have been caused by the programs. Other factors, such as clients’ motivation to change, could have led to the changes in outcomes, regardless of the program services.
- The analysis included clients who responded to surveys at the beginning and end of services: about 60 percent of HM clients and 50 percent of RF clients who enrolled in the programs. The clients in this analysis differed in some ways from all clients who enrolled in services, however, the magnitude of differences were generally small.
This report used performance measure data to describe HMRF grantees and the people they serve. Grantees are responsible for collecting all performance measure data and entering those data in nFORM. Respondents include grantee staff members and clients (that is, the adults or youth served by the programs). As clients progress through the program, grantees ask them to complete up to three surveys. The five data sources for nFORM are:
- Services and referrals. Grantee staff must report information on all services provided through the grant, such as workshops and case management. Data include type of service, duration, staff who offered the service, and clients who attended. Grantees must also report whether their staff offered clients referrals or incentives and, if so, for what purpose(s).
- Program operations survey. Each quarter, one staff person from each grantee completes a program operations survey. Question topics include recruitment methods, staff characteristics, quality assurance and monitoring, and implementation challenges.
- The applicant characteristics survey. Clients complete the applicant characteristics survey at enrollment, which is often the first contact they have with the program. Questions are about topics such as demographic characteristics, financial well-being, and family status.
- Entrance survey. Clients complete the entrance survey at the first workshop they attend. Questions cover topics such as parenting, coparenting, relationships, and economic well-being. Clients respond to one of four different versions of the entrance survey depending on their population: RF community fathers (also completed by couples served in RF), RF incarcerated fathers, HM adults, and HM youth.
- Exit survey. Clients complete the exit survey at the final workshop, with one exception. If the workshops last fewer than 28 days, then a client completes the exit survey 28 days after the entrance survey. As with the entrance survey, there are four different versions for specific populations served (RF community fathers, RF incarcerated fathers, HM adults, and HM youth). Most of the questions follow up on those asked at the entrance survey to find out any updates. The exit survey also has questions about clients’ program perceptions, such as satisfaction with the services.
Avellar, Sarah, Alexandra Stanczyk, Nikki Aikens, Mathew Stange, and Grace Roemer (2020). The 2015 Cohort of Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Grantees: Interim Report on Grantee Programs and Clients, OPRE Report 2020-67, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.