Effects of Four Responsible Fatherhood Programs for Low-Income Fathers: Evidence from the Parents and Children Together Evaluation

Publication Date: April 1, 2019

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  • Published: 2019


Research Questions

  1. How does offering RF services to low-income fathers affect their parenting, co-parenting, economic stability, and well-being one year after study enrollment?

Children who are supported emotionally and financially by their fathers fare better, on average, than those without such support. Despite wanting to be strong parents, providers, and partners, many low-income fathers struggle to fulfill these roles. Recognizing both the importance of fathers and the challenges that they might face, Congress has authorized and funded grants for Responsible Fatherhood (RF) programs for more than a decade. The Office of Family Assistance (OFA), in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awards and oversees these grants. The grants aim to help fathers be effective and nurturing parents, engage in healthy relationships and family formation, and improve economic outcomes for themselves and their families. OFA funded and ACF’s Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation oversaw a contract with Mathematica Policy Research to conduct the Parents and Children Together (PACT) evaluation. The PACT RF impact study was a large-scale, random assignment examination of four federally funded RF programs that received grants in 2011. This brief presents the impacts of those programs on fathers’ parenting, relationships, economic stability, and well-being about one year after the fathers enrolled.

Key Findings and Highlights

Compared with usual services available in the community, the RF programs in PACT:

  • improved fathers’ nurturing behavior
  • improved fathers’ engagement in age-appropriate activities with children
  • did not affect fathers’ in-person contact with their children or the financial support they provided
  • did not affect co-parenting
  • increased the length of time fathers were continuously employed, but did not affect earnings
  • did not affect measures of social-emotional well-being


From December 2012 to March 2015, the PACT evaluation team randomly assigned 5,522 fathers who applied for one of the four PACT RF programs to either a program group, which was offered RF services, or a control group, which was not offered these services. The control group received information about other services in the community and could choose to participate in those.

The evaluation team tested the effects of the PACT RF programs by comparing the outcomes of the program group with those of the control group. The evaluation team measured outcomes using data from three sources:

  1. baseline surveys completed by all fathers when they enrolled in the study
  2. follow-up surveys conducted with the fathers about a year later
  3. administrative employment records collected from the National Directory of New Hires, a national database on employment and earnings maintained by the Office of Child Support Enforcement


The goal of the PACT evaluation was to contribute to the growing RF field so that funders, developers, researchers, and providers can work together to learn, adapt, and improve programs. The impact analysis showed that the programs in PACT succeeded in changing some aspects of fathers’ parenting skills and involvement. These impacts are notable successes for fathers who often face adversities and challenges but want to become more involved and supportive parents, partners, and providers.


Avellar, Sarah, Reginald Covington, Quinn Moore, Ankita Patnaik, and April Wu. (2018). “Effects of Four Responsible Fatherhood Programs for Low-Income Fathers: Evidence from the Parents and Children Together Evaluation.” OPRE Report Number 2018-50. 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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