Engaging Young Parents and Fathers in Parenting Programs

CFRP Policy Brief | B.041.0319

March 2019
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Although extensive research shows the importance of fathers in the lives of their children, there is little research exploring the unique needs and challenges of young fathers between the ages of 18 and 24.CFRP conducted a study of over 2,000 families participating in home visiting programs and examined differences between young and older parents in their level of risk at program entry, program participation, and the extent to which they benefited from program participation. Additionally, CFRP measured whether father participation in the program was associated with any differences in family risk, program participation, or outcomes. Our analyses show that young and older families demonstrate different types of risk at program entry, but father participation in the program is associated with lower levels of risk regardless of parent age. Additionally, both young and older families are likely to participate in the program longer when fathers are involved. For older parent families specifically, father involvement is associated with receiving important screenings later in the program. Finally, analyses predicting key parenting outcomes show modest benefits for older parents, but no measurable benefit for young parents, and father involvement in the program has no significant influence on any of the program outcomes for either age group. The findings presented here highlight the differences between young and older parents and to help policymakers, program providers, and other stakeholders better serve and engage young parents and fathers.


One in ten parents with a child under the age of six is younger than 25 years old, yet little information exists about the needs and challenges unique to young parents.1 Even less is known about the needs of young fathers or effective strategies to engage and strengthen young fathers’ parenting skills. The extant research suggests that despite young fathers’ desires to maintain relationships with their children and families,2 young fathers are typically more disadvantaged, less likely to be married, and less likely to be coresidential parents than older fathers.3 Because father involvement is linked to better outcomes on almost every child wellbeing measure, including cognitive development, educational achievement, self-esteem, and pro-social behavior,4 children of younger fathers may be particularly at risk for poorer outcomes. Early childhood programs aimed at helping parents improve their children’s health and school readiness provide a good opportunity to engage fathers, and research has shown that fathers play a significant role in shaping the degree to which families benefit from home visiting programs.5 One study showed that families are more than four times more likely to remain in home visiting programs if fathers participate.6 Unfortunately, father participation in home visiting programs has been relatively low due to several barriers or risk factors, such as parents’ relationship status, fathers’ socioeconomic status, and maternal gatekeeping practices.7 The Annie E. Casey Foundation contracted with Dr. Cynthia Osborne and the Child and Family Research Partnership (CFRP) at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin to study the unique needs of young parents, particularly fathers, and how they are served by public and nonprofit programs. This study examines existing data available on young parents participating in evidence-based home visiting programs in Texas to identify how the needs of young parents differ from those of older parents; whether program participation and the benefits of home visiting programs vary for young or older parents; and whether father involvement in the program is associated with any of the identified differences.

Learn more in the full brief here (PDF).

  • Citations
    1.	US Census. Table A3. Parents With Coresident Children Under 18, by Living Arrangement, Sex, and Selected Characteristics: 2017 
    2.	Devault, A., Milcent, M.R, Ouellet, F., Laurin, I., Jauron, M., & Lacharite, C. (2008). Life stories of young fathers in contexts of vulnerability. Fathering: A journal of Theory, Research, and Practice about Men as Fathers, 6(3), 226-248; Rhoden, J.L., & Robinson, B.E. (1997). Teen dads: A generative fathering perspective versus the deficit myth. In A.J. Hawkins & D.C. Dollahite (Eds.) Generative fathering: Beyond deficit perspectives (pp. 105-117). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. 
    3.	Berger, L., and Langton, C. (2011). Young Disadvantaged Men as Fathers. Ann Am Acd Pol Soc Sci. 
    4.	Rosenberg, Jeffrey, and Wilcox, W. Bradford. United States Department of Health and Human Services. Administration for Children and Families. Child Welfare Information Gateway. The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children. Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Children's Bureau, 2006. Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/usermanuals/fatherhood/chaptertwo.cfm 
    5.	Vecere, E. (2015). Improving father engagement in Texas home visiting programs. Policy & Practice, 73, 26-27. 
    6.	McGinnis, S., Lee, E., Kirkland, K., Smith, C., Miranda-Julian, C., & Greene, R. (2018). Engaging at-risk fathers in home visiting services: effects on program retention and father involvement. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 1-12. 
    7.	Anderson, E. A., Kohler, J. K., & Letiecq, B. L. (2002). Low‐income fathers and “Responsible Fatherhood” programs: A qualitative investigation of participants' experiences. Family Relations, 51, 148-155.; Raikes, H., Boller, K., van Kammen, W., Summers, J., Raikes, A., Laible, D…Christensen, L. (2002). Father Involvement in Early Head Start Programs: A Practitioners Study.; Raikes, H. H., Summers, J. A., & Roggman, L. A. (2007). Father involvement in Early Head Start research programs. Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, and Practice about Men as Fathers, 3, 29-58.; Sandstrom, H., Gearing, M., Peters, H. E., Heller, C., Healy, O., & Pratt, E. (2015). Approaches to father engagement and fathers’ experiences in home visiting programs (No. 2015-103). OPRE report. 
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