Three Innovative Approaches to Serving Low-Income Fathers: The Building Bridges and Bonds Study

Publication Date: May 19, 2017
Three Innovative Approaches to Serving Low-Income Fathers: The Building Bridges and Bonds Study

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Research Questions

  1. What challenges do fathers who participate in fatherhood programs commonly face?
  2. How do the new program approaches offer an innovative response to common challenges?
  3. What are the potential learning opportunities from studying the new program approaches?

This brief introduces the Building Bridges and Bonds study, a rigorous evaluation of new program approaches to support low-income fathers in working toward economic stability and improved relationships with their children. The brief describes the three new program approaches that are being evaluated as enhancements to other responsible fatherhood program services.

Each service innovation is highly interactive and aims to build specific skills that can help fathers make noticeable progress in their lives. Paired with an evaluation, the new and potentially effective options offer a learning opportunity in ways to address common challenges fathers and fatherhood practitioners face. The new program components being evaluated in the study are:

  • the Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Justice Involved Individuals Seeking Employment, which works with fathers with recent involvement in the criminal justice system and aims to help them find and keep better jobs by improving coping skills and encouraging positive thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors;
  • the Just Beginning parenting intervention, a program that works with fathers and their young children together to improve the quality of father-child interactions; and
  • the DadTime engagement intervention, a smartphone app that aims to improve fathers’ participation in the program by guiding and supporting them in making and following through on plans for attending Just Beginning workshops. It also prompts them to practice skills learned in the parenting intervention.

The Building Bridges and Bonds study is expected to enroll up to 2,200 fathers across six fatherhood program sites. The evaluation includes a process study and an impact study. In 2016, the study began enrolling fathers and implementing the new program components. This brief is one in a series of publications over the next three years designed to share perspectives and lessons learned about these new approaches. Initial findings from the process study are expected in 2018 and impact findings in 2019.


Over recent decades, changes in labor markets and in family structure have created substantial barriers for fathers in maintaining stable employment and stable relationships with their children. These challenges are particularly pressing given that fathers’ financial and emotional support for their children provides a critical foundation for child well-being. However, many fathers, particularly low-income fathers, struggle to provide support. Personal and societal barriers get in the way, such as low levels of education, stigma from criminal records, declining wages for low-skilled men, or family instability.

There is great interest in identifying effective strategies that build fathers’ capacity to support their children both emotionally and financially. Responsible fatherhood programs use a number of promising models to work with fathers, but prior evaluations of fatherhood interventions have found limited impacts. The Building Bridges and Bonds study is designed to test innovative, evidence-informed programming for fathers, with the goal of building practical evidence that can be used to improve services for low-income fathers. This brief describes these new approaches and the potential learning opportunities.


Israel, Dina, Rebecca Behrmann, and Samantha Wulfsohn (2017). Three Innovative Approaches to Serving Low-Income Fathers: The Building Bridges and Bonds Study, OPRE Report 2017-28, 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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