Panel Paper: Participation in Responsible Fatherhood Programs: The Role of Father and Program Characteristics

Saturday, November 4, 2017
Stetson BC (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Julia S. Alamillo, Heather Zaveri, Scott Baumgartner and M. Robin Dion, Mathematica Policy Research

To promote the positive involvement of fathers with their children, Congress authorized the Responsible Fatherhood (RF) grant program in 2005, which funds programs to help fathers become more supportive and engaged parents. Programs must offer voluntary services in three areas: (1) parenting education and support; (2) economic stability; and (3) healthy relationships and marriage. Dozens of organizations across the country have implemented programs that include these services, while still reflecting a range of philosophies, structures, and formats. A common challenge for RF programs is attendance and completion. Fathers’ circumstances when they enroll may explain why some participate more than others, but variation in programs’ structure and design may also play a role.

In this paper, we use quantitative and qualitative data from the Parents and Children Together (PACT) evaluation to describe fathers’ participation in RF programs and explore the predictors of participation, focusing on characteristics of both fathers and programs. PACT is a multi-component evaluation that included a study of 5,522 fathers at four RF programs: (1) Successful STEPS in Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri, (2) The Family Formation Program in St. Louis, Missouri, (3) The FATHER Project in Minneapolis, Minnesota and St. Paul, Minnesota, and (4) The Center for Fathering in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The study collected a wide array of data to provide a detailed portrait of these programs and the fathers who enrolled. To conduct our analyses, we utilize data on fathers’ characteristics from a survey conducted at program enrollment, program characteristics collected from site visits and interviews with staff, and fathers’ program participation from a web-based management information system (MIS).

We find that nine months after enrollment, more than three-quarters of fathers had attended at least one program service, and more than two-thirds had attended at least one core workshop on parenting, economic stability, or healthy relationships. On average, fathers received nearly 45 hours of program services and attended 35 percent of the workshop hours available to them. Of the three services required by RF grants, retention was highest in parenting workshops for all programs, followed by economic stability workshops for most programs, and healthy relationship workshops for all but one program.

To explore whether program and father characteristics matter for participation, we use regression models to estimate the association between fathers’ baseline characteristics and their participation, for all programs combined and separately for each program. We examine fathers’ baseline characteristics in six categories: (1) age, education, and race/ethnicity, (2) life challenges, (3) motivation for enrolling, (4) anticipated challenges to participation, (5) relationship status, and (6) contact with and support of children. The results indicate that program and participant factors both influence participation. Participation differs significantly across RF programs after controlling for a range of fathers’ background characteristics. Fathers’ characteristics also explain participation, but the effect of their characteristics sometimes varies by program. In particular, fathers’ age, anticipated challenges to participation, living arrangements with children, and having a child support order are especially important for understanding what motivates participation.