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- Published: 2021
Recognizing the importance of fathers to their families, as well as the difficulties that many fathers with low-incomes face supporting their children, the federal government has supported responsible fatherhood (RF) programs for more than a decade. However, many questions remain about how to best serve fathers and their families. The Office of Family Assistance (OFA) and the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE), both within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), are committed to building the evidence base to strengthen healthy marriage (HM) and RF programming. To systematically identify current gaps in the knowledge base for HMRF programming, ACF undertook the Fatherhood, Relationships, and Marriage — Illuminating the Next Generation of Research (FRAMING Research) project.
On September 16, 2020, ACF convened a second RF technical work group for the FRAMING Research project. The group included researchers and practitioners with expertise on responsible fatherhood programming and/or fathers with criminal justice involvement. This brief describes the discussion at the meeting, which focused on enhancing the economic stability and parenting skills of fathers with criminal justice involvement. These topics emerged from the project team’s review of the relevant literature and discussions with ACF about agency priorities. The day concluded with technical work group members participating in a brainstorming session on research priorities related to RF programming for fathers with criminal justice involvement.
Key Findings and Highlights
- Enhancing the economic stability of fathers with criminal justice involvement. For fathers who have been incarcerated, economic stability can be difficult to achieve. The first part of the discussion focused on the implementation and impacts of programs designed to improve the economic stability of fathers with a history of criminal justice involvement. TWG members’ key points included:
- RF programs might need to help fathers address other issues—such as trauma caused by systemic, pervasive racism, poverty, and incarceration; mental and physical health problems; or challenges related to housing or food insecurity—before fathers can benefit from economic stability services.
- RF programs cannot always address fathers’ complex needs due to restrictions in the grant funding. Instead, programs may need to develop strong partnerships with other agencies to help fathers address their needs.
- RF programs should explicitly address contextual barriers to fathers’ economic stability, such as social systems, policies, and racial discrimination, which can hinder the ability of fathers with criminal justice involvement to secure and maintain employment.
- Funders should consider allowing programs to engage fathers earlier in their sentences to enhance positive relationships within the correctional facility and encourage a focus on rehabilitation and restorative justice throughout fathers’ sentences.
- Programs should take care to incorporate lessons that reflect fathers’ culture, community, and lived experiences.
- Enhancing the parenting skills of fathers with criminal justice involvement. Fathers who are or have been incarcerated face many obstacles to maintaining a close relationship with their children. The second part of the discussion focused on the barriers that justice-involved fathers face in trying to be involved fathers and how programs can help fathers overcome these barriers. TWG members noted the following during this part of the discussion:
- It is important for RF programs to distinguish among different types of criminal justice involvement because they can have different implications for fathers’ relationships with their children.
- Incarcerated fathers often cannot access the same services available to mothers to support parenting, which can make it more difficult for fathers to connect with their children after release.
- Programs should be prepared to address fathers’ other issues, such as food insecurity, lack of stable housing or employment, and physical and mental health problems, to better support fathers’ parenting skills.
- To be effective, programs need to find ways to help fathers practice and apply the parenting skills taught in class even if fathers do not have regular contact with their children.
- Programs that operate in prison and jails should be aware of whether the environment is family friendly and work to address concerns families may have.
- Future RF research priorities. TWG members identified four top priorities for future work, which included:
- Broaden the evidence base by conducting studies within a range of communities using diverse research teams.
- Explicitly address the lived experiences that matter for fathers’ outcomes—particularly Black and Latino fathers.
- Distinguish among different groups of justice-involved fathers.
- Evaluate the importance of partnering with agencies and organizations that can provide complementary services.
Alamillo, J. and L. Ouellette. “Enhancing the Economic Stability and Parenting Skills of Fathers with Criminal Justice Involvement: Highlights from the Second FRAMING Research Responsible Fatherhood Technical Work Group.” OPRE Report 2021-165. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2021.