Posted June 11, 2014

Temple launches national network to evaluate fatherhood programs

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Twenty-one percent of U.S. children live in single-mother households, but nonresident fathers can still play an important role in their children’s lives, influencing positive outcomes such as high school graduation, stronger peer relationships, less risk for domestic violence and improved overall well-being. Though most fathers want to be involved with their children, many face significant barriers, which fatherhood programs are trying to eliminate.

To evaluate those fatherhood programs and best serve low-income fathers, Temple University and the Center for Policy Research (CPR) in Denver have launched the Fatherhood Research and Practice Network (FRPN). The FRPN is being established through a five-year, $4.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation.

“In order to better serve fathers, we must have an understanding of what types of programs are most effective,” said Temple Professor of Social Work Jay Fagan, who will serve as co-director of FRPN with Jessica Pearson, director of CPR. “The FRPN will support and conduct well-designed, scientifically valid evaluation studies that improves the delivery of fatherhood programs, and ultimately, the way dads engage in their children’s lives.”

Though there is a growing body of research about how fathers positively influence child development, there is limited knowledge about which programs are most effective with low-income, nonresident fathers and under-studied populations, he said.

Fatherhood programs—also called responsible fatherhood programs—provide activities such as parenting and co-parenting classes, employment services and counseling to improve fathers’ engagement with their children. Many of those programs began receiving federal funding with passage of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. Currently, there are 120 federally funded responsible fatherhood and healthy-marriage programs, with hundreds of other state-, county- and community-based fatherhood programs operating nationwide.

The FRPN seeks to provide researchers and practitioners with collaborative opportunities for evaluating fatherhood programs and communicating information that leads to more effective implementation of successful fatherhood programs. Forty nationally recognized fatherhood practitioners, evaluation researchers and policymakers also will provide direction for FRPN. The project will focus on three specific areas: fathers’ engagement with their children, economic security, and co-parenting and healthy relationships.

“From an evaluation research perspective, there have historically been limited opportunities for practitioners to work closely with researchers and share information about effective practices in order to improve program delivery and outcomes,” Fagan said.

“Researchers have been studying the impact of paternal involvement for decades as federal support for the establishment of fatherhood programs has grown,” Pearson added. “However, we have only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to knowledge about effective interventions with low-income, nonresident fathers and under-studied populations.”

In addition to funding evaluation projects, FRPN will offer fatherhood practitioners and researchers a variety of online and in-person technical-assistance resources on how to evaluate and measure the effectiveness of fatherhood programs. It will also connect these practitioners and researchers based on geographic location and research interest.

The FRPN will allocate a total of $1.2 million to fund projects evaluating fatherhood programs, with $300,000 available for three to five selected projects now.