Implementing an Innovative Parenting Program for Fathers: Findings from the B3 Study

Publication Date: January 15, 2020
Cover of "Implementing an Innovative Parenting Program for Fathers: Findings from the B3 Study."

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Research Questions

  1. In what context was JB implemented?
  2. Who participated in the JB evaluation and were they the intended population for the B3 study?
  3. To what extent were programs able to engage fathers and what strategies did they use to encourage participation?

A father’s support – both financial and emotional – is linked to better outcomes on nearly every measure of a child’s well-being.  Past research has shown that fathers with low income – whether they live with their children or not – may find it particularly difficult to provide that support as they face challenges to maintaining stable employment and stable relationships with their children.

To continue building an evidence base of effective, innovative programming to support men and their families, the Office of Planning Research and Evaluation (OPRE) at ACF contracted with a team led by MDRC using funds from ACF’s Office of Family Assistance (OFA) to conduct the Building Bridges and Bonds (B3) study. B3 identified and is testing new interactive skill-building approaches that address two of the three required Responsible Fatherhood grant program areas, parenting and economic stability, within the context of existing Responsible Fatherhood programs. The intervention that is addressing parenting is called Just Beginning (JB). The JB intervention is a one-on-one parenting curriculum that includes engaging skill-building videos and father-child play activities. In JB, fathers learn and try out one new strategy for interacting with their child per session, over five sessions, to enhance the quality of the father-child relationship.

For the B3 study, three organizations offering Responsible Fatherhood programming implemented JB. Fathers were randomly selected to participate in the organizations’ usual menu of services or JB in addition to the usual menu of services. Using data collected through the B3 process study, this brief describes how each organization implemented JB within their existing services and how fathers engaged in both JB and the organizations’ usual menus of services.


This brief presents the first systematic analysis of how three existing fatherhood programs implemented JB as part of the B3 process study. The goal of the B3 process study is to provide insight into the different services received by each of the study groups as context for interpreting future impact study findings. This initial analysis documents the implementation of JB and describes how an initial sample of fathers engaged in JB and each organization’s usual menu of services.

Key Findings and Highlights

The participation data suggest that while Responsible Fatherhood programs were able to incorporate JB into their existing menu of services, implementing JB was not without challenges. Slightly more than half of JB fathers participated in the added program. Many fathers faced challenges that made any amount of participation difficult, including coordinating the young child’s participation, gaining the co-parent’s cooperation, and prioritizing JB against the competing demands that fathers in this disadvantaged population must manage. Also, fathers may be motivated to enroll in Responsible Fatherhood services for a variety of reasons and some may not have wanted to participate in a parenting program. By not screening based on interest, the JB sample included fathers whose goals for the fatherhood program did not necessarily include parenting lessons. Nevertheless, the organizations were still able to engage a significant portion of fathers in the program.

Moreover, fathers who were able to attend at least one session were usually able to progress through the curriculum, ultimately receiving the adequate dosage of 4 sessions (as identified by the curriculum developers). Achieving these participation rates depended on staff spending significant time and resources on engagement, as well as support and technical assistance from MDRC and the JB curriculum developers. Furthermore, engaging fathers in JB sessions was easier when the underlying fatherhood program was structured in such a way that fathers came on-site for usual services on a regular basis and for the duration of the JB curriculum.


The data presented in this brief come from the B3 process study, baseline surveys, and management information systems. The process study systematically documented the implementation of Just Beginning. It included a series of semi-structured interviews with staff members, focus groups with fathers, and program observations. The B3 baseline survey and nFORM Applicant Characteristics Survey were administered at intake to fathers who enrolled in the study. Data from nFORM, the management information system used by federally funded fatherhood programs, were also analyzed.


Manno, Michelle S., Patrizia Mancini, and Charlotte O’Herron. 2019. “Implementing an Innovative Parenting Program for Fathers: Findings from the B3 Study.” OPRE Report 2019-111. 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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