Opening up Possibilities: Father Engagement Lessons During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

Publication Date: May 28, 2021
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  • Published: 2021


This brief provides insights from six teams representing five state or county child welfare agencies using a Breakthrough Series Collaborative (BSC) continuous learning method to engage fathers and paternal relatives in child welfare. Though their work on the Fathers and Continuous Learning (FCL) in Child Welfare project began before the COVID-19 public health emergency, it continued throughout. This brief focuses on the unexpected challenges these teams faced and their innovative adaptations to allow the work to continue.

This brief explores how child welfare might think differently about father engagement as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency. These insights are offered as a descriptive resource for interested stakeholders.


This brief, drawing on information gathered during the pilot study, details how teams responded to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 public health emergency and the benefits and improvements that arose. These lessons can hopefully serve as inspiration to other child welfare agencies aiming to engage fathers and paternal relatives. This brief also highlights the benefits of the BSC methodology in responding to a public health emergency.

Key Findings and Highlights

Teams felt that their involvement in a BSC positioned them to respond effectively to the COVID-19 public health emergency. Although the sudden need to rethink how services were delivered presented many challenges, it also provided an opportunity to reconsider how to approach father and paternal relative engagement. Improvements reported as a result of engagement strategies developed during COVID-19 include:

  • Higher attendance and lower cancellation rates by fathers at virtual classes and meetings
  • Improved relationships between fathers and social workers
  • Greater caregiver involvement in cases


Mathematica conducted virtual interviews and group meetings as part of the BSC. Information from these sources along with supplemental information from previous qualitative and quantitative data collection were used to inform this brief.


Abendroth, Eliza, Jennifer Bellamy, Diletta Mittone, Roseana Bess, and Matthew Stagner (2021). Opening Up Possibilities: Father Engagement Lessons During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, OPRE Report # 2021-82, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services