Pathways-To-Outcomes: How Responsible Fatherhood Program Activities May Lead To Intended Outcomes

Publication Date: July 8, 2020
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The report presents four “Pathways-to-Outcomes” models for Responsible Fatherhood (RF) programs, each focusing on one outcome domain measured in the Parents and Children Together (PACT) evaluation: (1) healthy relationships between co-parents, (2) father development and well-being, (3) consistent employment; and (4) parenting skills and father involvement.

ACF directed Mathematica to create this set of RF Pathways-to-Outcomes models to depict how RF program activities may contribute to intended outcomes.


The models presented in the report are intended to advance the field of RF programming and research by depicting evidence-informed hypotheses that could be used by practitioners and program developers as they design and implement programs. These models do not provide causal evidence to link specific program activities to specific outcomes. However, the models can be used to test the connections between specific program activities and their impact on participants, and findings from these tests would inform practitioners about the RF program activities responsible for observed outcomes.  Although we present the models separately, readers should consider the set of models together and complementarily.

Key Findings and Highlights

Hypotheses for each RF Pathways-to-Outcomes model are as follows:

  1. Programs may improve fathers’ co-parenting relationships by integrating personal development, parenting, and healthy relationships content in a group-based workshop, educating fathers about domestic violence, providing individual case management, and engaging co-parents. The workshop sequences personal development content before co-parenting content. It offers fathers opportunities to discuss co-parenting issues and challenges one-on-one with a qualified case manager or other staff member. Programs can partner with community providers to educate fathers on domestic violence. Supplementary services that help fathers reduce barriers to child access and engage co-parents may further strengthen fathers’ co-parenting relationships.
  2. Programs may support father development and well-being by reducing their risk for depression or depressive symptoms and associated risk of substance use disorder. Programs can encourage peer interactions, hire staff with whom participants can identify, and partner with mental health and substance use disorder treatment programs to increase access to these services. Programs may need to include substantial personal development content in core workshops.
  3. Programs may improve fathers’ employment and economic stability by providing intensive and comprehensive work-related services. Programs may implement core employment services in a way that requires daily attendance and with sufficient dosage of content focusing on skills needed to acquire and retain a job, as well as case management and job development services.
  4. Programs may improve fathers’ parenting skills and increase involvement in their children’s lives by frontloading parenting content in a group-based workshop that covers the importance of father involvement, child development, and co-parenting. Providing parenting services early in the program may engage fathers and increase the likelihood they receive parenting content. Programs may also need to help fathers reduce barriers to child access to increase effects on father involvement.


The contents of the RF Pathways-to-Outcomes models draw primarily from three components of the PACT evaluation of RF programs: impact and implementation studies, and a qualitative study. These studies examined four RF programs that received Office of Family Assistance RF grants in 2011 (Successful STEPS, Family Formation Program, The FATHER Project, and The Center for Fathering). We developed models for outcomes for which at least one RF program in PACT had a statistically significant impact. When developing hypotheses for a given outcome, we examined only the activities of programs that had statistically significant impacts on that outcome. In addition to the PACT evaluation findings, we conducted a targeted literature search to refine and inform the Pathways-to-Outcomes models. We consulted RF program practitioners and researchers in the field during development of the models.


Baumgartner, Scott, Daniel Friend, Pamela Holcomb, Elizabeth Clary, Heather Zaveri, and Amy Overcash. (2020). Pathways-To-Outcomes: How Responsible Fatherhood Program Activities May Lead To Intended Outcomes. OPRE Report 2020-52. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, 2020.

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