For many fathers who were raised in poverty and faced hardships, these life experiences can create complex challenges and barriers to being a positive, active presence in their child’s life. An unstable life and lack of positive supports can undermine a father’s ability to actively bond with, care for, and raise his children. Research has shown that this can lead to various emotional, behavioral, and development challenges for children.
Since 2005, Congress has funded Responsible Fatherhood (RF) grants to support programs for fathers that promote responsible parenting, economic stability, and healthy marriage. To examine RF programs receiving government funding, The Office of Family Assistance, part of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, funded the Parents and Children Together (PACT) evaluation. ACF’s Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation oversaw the contract with Mathematica Policy Research conducting the evaluation.
The goal of this online report, Supporting the Fatherhood Journey: Findings from the Parents and Children Together Evaluation (PACT), Visit disclaimer page is to describe the four RF programs in PACT, their services, and their impacts on fathers.
- A process study that examined how RF programs were structured and operated as well as fathers’ participation in the services offered.
- A qualitative study that focused on understanding the contexts of fathers’ lives through three rounds of in-depth interviews with a subset of fathers assigned to the program group.
- An impact study that used random assignment to examine the effects and changes that program participation had on the fathers who received the program compared to those that did not.
The goal of this report is to describe the four RF programs in PACT, their services, and their impacts on fathers. The report brings together key findings with quotes and video clips from staff who operate the programs and fathers who participated in them.
Key Findings and Highlights
This report identified several key findings from the process and qualitative components:
- Fathers bonded with men in the program and the program staff and valued program services related to personal development. These bonds helped them stick with the program. Fathers credited the program with helping them take greater responsibility for their actions and feelings.
- Fathers believed the programs helped them become better parents. They embraced the idea that they could offer their children emotional support and connection, even if they could not provide much financial support.
- Fathers reported gaining valuable relationship skills that improved communication and co-parenting skills with current and former partners. Fathers discussed how these skills helped them improve their conversations with their current romantic partners or former partners with whom they had children.
- Some fathers wanted more legal assistance with securing visitation, shared custody, or parenting time, but the RF grant did not allow grantees to use these funds to provide legal services.
- Fathers wanted greater access to their children and desired help resolving what they perceived to be an unfair disconnect between paying child support and access to their children. Fathers found the basic information provided about child support useful, but many fathers wanted more assistance in modifying child support orders or addressing arrears.
- Fathers described gaining job-seeking skills through the program but still struggled to achieve greater economic stability. Fathers reported that they learned job-seeking skills (such as resume writing). Still, fathers experienced their criminal background as a major roadblock to attaining living-wage jobs.
Findings from the impact component showed that program participation affected some key outcomes but not others. Compared with usual services available in the community, the RF programs in PACT:
- Had some success in improving fathers involvement in their children’s lives
- Did not affect the quality of fathers’ relationships with the mothers of their children
- Led to a modest increase in employment stability
- Did not affect fathers’ well-being.
This report draws on data collected for the process, qualitative, and impact components of the PACT evaluation. Sources include:
- Survey data from 5,522 fathers on their characteristics collected at the time of enrollment and one-year post-enrollment
- Data on program features collected from site visits and interviews with program staff
- Data on fathers’ attendance and participation collected by programs
- Descriptions, quotes, and videos about the fathers and programs from a subset of participating fathers and program staff, collected during in-person interviews.
Holcomb, Pamela, Heather Zaveri, Daniel Friend, Robin Dion, Scott Baumgartner, Liz Clary, Angela Valdovinos D’Angelo, and Sarah Avellar. “Supporting the Fatherhood Journey: Findings from the Parents and Children Together Evaluation (PACT).” OPRE Report #2019-50. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2019.