Improving Children’s Well-Being through Responsible Fatherhood Programs

Publication Date: August 6, 2020
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Fathers’ parenting engagement (that is, the ways in which fathers interact with their children) is linked to many aspects of children’s well-being, from health outcomes to academic and social outcomes. However, nonresident fathers with low incomes often face barriers to being fully engaged. By improving fathers’ engagement with their children, RF programs could ultimately benefit children.


In this brief, we consider how RF programs could improve child well-being by supporting fathers’ parenting engagement. Fathers’ parenting engagement refers to the ways in which fathers interact with their children, for example, how they discipline their children, how nurturing they are, and whether they use corporal punishment. We proceed in four steps. First, we examine the importance of fathers’ parenting engagement for children’s outcomes. Second, we describe how RF programs seek to improve fathers’ engagement with their children. Third, we examine evidence from rigorous research on the effectiveness of parenting programs in changing fathers’ parenting engagement. Lastly, based on this evidence, we highlight three promising approaches that could be integrated into RF programs in the future.

This work is part of the Fatherhood, Relationships, and Marriage, Illuminating the Next Generation of Research (FRAMING Research) project, sponsored by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. ACF has partnered with Mathematica and Public Strategies to conduct the FRAMING Research study.

Key Findings and Highlights

Key findings from each step include:

  1. Benefits of fathers’ parenting engagement on child well-being

Research suggests that high-quality father-child engagement is strongly linked to positive child and adolescent outcomes such as psychological well-being (life satisfaction, depression, and anxiety), academic achievement (grades, test scores, dropping out of school), behavioral outcomes (delinquency and externalizing behavior, smoking) and social outcomes (peer and romantic relationships).

  1. RF programs and their support of fathers’ parenting engagement

RF programs’ parenting services are most directly tied to supporting and enhancing fathers’ parenting engagement. Core parenting group-based workshops might cover child development, the meaning of fatherhood, and effective parenting skills, such as being nurturing and using positive reinforcement. Programs might also address other aspects of parenting that could indirectly affect fathers’ engagement with their children, such as coparenting skills.

  1. Research on parenting programs and their effect on fathers’ parenting engagement

Parenting programs have shown modest effects on fathers’ parenting engagement. We searched for rigorous, recent research on programs designed to improve fathers’ parenting engagement and identified 13 impact studies of 12 programs for fathers. Eleven studies found favorable effects on fathers’ parenting engagement. Our scan suggests parenting programs can improve fathers’ parenting engagement, but we can draw limited conclusions, because the programs, outcomes, data collection, and analysis varied across studies.

  1. Promising approaches for improving fathers’ parenting engagement

We describe three approaches that were good candidates for integrating into RF programs.

  • Behavioral parent training (BPT) focuses on giving parents skills and strategies to effectively manage their child’s behavior. BPT can not only help address established problems, but also be used preventatively.
  • Video modeling involves trained individuals demonstrating parenting behaviors and skills in a video. The effectiveness of video modeling for fathers has been demonstrated for BPT, but it might also be a strong approach for teaching other parenting practices.
  • Web-based programs have the potential to increase fathers’ access to and participation in services. Fathers can participate in services on their own schedule. However, the approach likely works best when paired with in-person or online interactive components.


We searched for and identified recent random assignment evaluations of parenting programs in the U.S. that served fathers or focused on fathers’ parenting engagement. The content for the brief was also informed by input from members of an HMRE technical work group for the project, which met in July 2019.


Patnaik, Ankita, and Sarah Avellar. “Improving Children’s Well-Being through Responsible Fatherhood Programs.” OPRE Report 2020-94. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2020.

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