Building Bridges and Bonds: Study Design Report

Publication Date: May 19, 2017
Building Bridges and Bonds: Study Design Report Cover

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Research Questions

  1. What were the key elements needed to support implementation of the added program component(s) in each program site?
  2. What were the impacts of the added program components on outcomes of interest, such as employment, earnings, and the quality of the father-child relationship?
  3. What was the impact of the DadTime intervention on program participation rates?

This report describes the Building Bridges and Bonds study, a rigorous evaluation of new program approaches to support low-income fathers in working toward economic stability and improved relationships with their children. The report includes a description of the three new program approaches being added to responsible fatherhood program services and the research design that is being used to evaluate them.

The new program components being evaluated in the study are:

  • the Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Justice Involved Individuals Seeking Employment, which works with fathers with recent involvement in the criminal justice system and aims to help them find and keep better jobs by improving coping skills and encouraging positive thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors;
  • the Just Beginning parenting intervention, a program that works with fathers and their young children together to improve the quality of father-child interactions; and
  • the DadTime engagement intervention, a smartphone app that aims to improve fathers’ participation in the program by guiding and supporting them in making and following through on plans for attending Just Beginning workshops. It also prompts them to practice skills learned in the parenting intervention.

The evaluation includes a process study and an impact study.

  • The process study will describe who participated in services, how services operated, and the challenges staff faced. It will provide lessons for the field on key elements for successful program implementation and barriers to overcome when adding these new program components.
  • The impacts of each of the three innovative program components will be rigorously evaluated using an experimental research design. The impact study will address questions about whether the new approaches affect key outcomes of interest, including employment, father-child relationship quality, and program participation.

In all, the Building Bridges and Bonds study is expected to enroll around 2,200 fathers across six fatherhood program sites. The study began enrolling fathers and implementing the new program components in the fall of 2016. The study team plans to release initial findings from the process study in 2018 and impact findings in 2019.


Over recent decades, changes in labor markets and in family structure have created substantial barriers for fathers in maintaining stable employment and stable relationships with their children. These challenges are particularly pressing given that fathers’ financial and emotional support for their children provides a critical foundation for child well-being. However, many fathers, particularly low-income fathers, struggle to provide support. Personal and societal barriers get in the way, such as low levels of education, stigma from criminal records, declining wages for low-skilled men, or family instability.

There is great interest in identifying effective strategies that build fathers’ capacity to support their children both emotionally and financially. Responsible fatherhood programs use a number of promising models to work with fathers, but prior evaluations of fatherhood interventions have found limited impacts. The Building Bridges and Bonds study is designed to test innovative, evidence-informed programming for fathers, with the goal of building practical evidence that can be used to improve services for low-income fathers. This report describes these new approaches and the research design of the study.


The Building Bridges and Bonds study includes both a mixed-methods process study and a rigorous impact study. The process study collects qualitative and quantitative data from program staff delivering the usual fatherhood services and new program components, from fathers participating in the study, and from co-parents. Together, these data sources address fundamental questions about what it took to implement the new program components and about the experiences of staff, fathers, and co-parents with the new program components.

The impact study is an experimental evaluation with a six-month follow up.

Half of the fathers are randomly assigned to a group offered the new program component in addition to the usual services, and the other half are assigned to a control group offered only the usual services. The difference in outcomes between the randomly assigned groups represents the impact of the new program components. The impact study addresses the central question of what effects the added components have on fathers’ parenting, economic stability, and program participation.


Harknett, Kristen, Michelle S. Manno, and Rekha Balu (2017). Building Bridges and Bonds: Study Design Report, OPRE Report 2017-27, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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