Panel Paper: Implementing Three New Skill-Building Components in Responsible Fatherhood Programs: Early Lessons from Building Bridges and Bonds

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

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Dina Israel, Rekha Balu and Michelle Manno, MDRC

This presentation will highlight a unique collaboration between research and program practice to innovate and build evidence to help shape future services for fathers. Specifically, it will share early program experiences implementing three new and emerging service approaches designed to be practical and interactive, and to address issues important to low-income fathers enrolled in Responsible Fatherhood programs. Responsible Fatherhood programs often play an important role in communities, particularly low-income communities, giving fathers a place to plan for better futures for themselves and their children. They use a range of curricula and practices tailored to the needs of local participants and are organized, when federally funded, to address three primary issues: responsible parenting, healthy marriage and co-parent relationships, and economic stability. The program innovations described in this presentation are part of a large-scale federal evaluation called Building Bridges and Bonds sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.

Three innovations were designed specifically for fathers. Each uses an interactive approach to adult learning.

Innovation #1. A Cognitive Behavioral Workshop That Builds Skills for Employment Stability. Designed for fathers with a history of criminal justice involvement, CBI-Emp consists of a series of pre-employment group sessions that help fathers practice with their peers the skills to reframe unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, and habitual responses and to reinforce positive behaviors that can help turn their focus in challenging situations toward solutions. Cognitive behavioral approaches have not yet been rigorously tested in employment programs for fathers, even though it has had some promising effects on recidivism for people who are involved in the criminal justice system.

Innovation #2. An Interactive Approach to High-Quality Parenting, known as Just Beginning. Designed for fathers with children under three years old, Just Beginning comprises five one-on-one sessions that are scheduled approximately once per week. Each session lasts for 60 to 90 minutes and consists of parent learning, father-child playtime, and time to debrief. Parenting programs for fathers are rare; it is rarer still for parenting programs to engage the father and the child together in structured activities that are aimed at promoting positive parenting interactions.

Innovation #3. An engagement and retention approach using a mobile smartphone application. Designed for fathers receiving innovation #2. The intervention uses a mobile application that provides planning and content support. It is innovative in its use of technology and in applying principles from “behavioral economics” to improve engagement in community-based programs.

This presentation will share early perspectives on implementation from program staff and managers who are integrating these innovations into their existing services and from fathers who are participating in the study. The service innovations described in this presentation represent new and potentially effective options for Responsible Fatherhood programs. While impact results are not yet available, early lessons about implementation are invaluable to decision-makers who may be considering new strategies to improve voluntary programs for fathers and others.