CFRP Policy Brief | B.032.0617
Programs designed specifically to support fathers in their role as parents are relatively new to the policy landscape. Originally emerging as an outgrowth of welfare reform and stronger child support enforcement in the 1990s, fatherhood programs have since evolved from a narrow focus on financial stability and support to a more balanced agenda that emphasizes healthy relationships, parenting skills, and father involvement. Accompanying these changes has been a growing interest among researchers in studying the role that fathers play in the lives of their children. In this brief, we highlight the broad initiatives, policies, and programs that are currently being implemented at the national, state, and local levels to support fathers and be more inclusive of the entire family.
Promoting and supporting responsible fatherhood became a federal priority in the 1990s as part of federal welfare reform. During the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations, both Congress and the Executive branch took multiple actions to support responsible fatherhood programs and policies, which are described below.1
Responsible Fatherhood Programs and Evaluations
As part of the federal welfare reform of 1996, Congress recognized the need to promote responsible fatherhood as a way to support child wellbeing.2 During the 106th Congress (1999-2000), Congress provided funding to the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), a non-profit organization that works with government agencies, the military, corrections departments, and community organizations to create fatherhood programs.3 Concurrently, Congress also provided funding to evaluate the Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Revitalization’s fatherhood program, signaling the federal government’s commitment to researching and assessing the impact of responsible fatherhood programs.4 Although Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama included funding for responsible fatherhood programs in each of their budgets, it was not until the 109th Congress of 2005-2006 that the Healthy Marriage Promotion and Responsible Fatherhood (HMPRF) grants program was created and funded under the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 beginning in FY2006 and continuing through FY2010.5 The program was subsequently reauthorized under the Claims Resolution Act of 2010.6 The HMPRF programs support healthy marriage, responsible parenting, and economic stability activities, and are funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration of Children and Families’ (ACF) Office of Family Assistance (OFA).7 The HMPRF programs have continued to receive funds through FY2016.8 Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education grantees, the New Pathways for Fathers and Families grantees, and Responsible Fatherhood Opportunities for Reentry and Mobility (ReFORM) grantees are currently funded from FY2015 through FY2020.9
The federal government also provides funding to further the knowledge and research base of responsible fatherhood. OFA funds the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse (NRFC), which shares research on responsible fatherhood and effective practices to support fathers and responsible fatherhood program providers. NRFC relies on multiple avenues to share information including: the fatherhood.gov website, media campaigns, social media, virtual trainings, outreach and presentations at events, written products to advance the fields of responsible fatherhood research and practice, and a National Call Center for fathers and responsible fatherhood practitioners.10 In addition, the ACF’s Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) is implementing several research and evaluation projects, including the Building Bridges and Bonds (B3), the Parents and Children Together (PaCT) Responsible Fatherhood Evaluation, the Fatherhood and Marriage Local Evaluation and Cross-Site (FaMLE Cross-Site) project, and the Ex-Prisoner Reentry Strategies Study, all of which partner with Responsible Fatherhood programs.11 OPRE also awards grants to fund research on Healthy Marriage/Responsible Fatherhood, and provides information on the curricula used by Healthy Marriage/Responsible Fatherhood grantees through its Strengthening Families Curriculum Guide.12 To promote rigorous evaluation, strengthen the field of fatherhood research, and share information on effective fatherhood research and evaluation practices, OPRE funded the Fatherhood Research and Practice Network (FRPN).13 FRPN provides grants to study responsible fatherhood programs, develops and shares measurement instruments for use in fatherhood program evaluations, and provides training and technical assistance to practitioners and researchers through webinars, written documents, and its Researcher and Practitioner Forum.14
The Federal Responsible Fatherhood Working Group
The Obama administration established the federal Responsible Fatherhood Working Group to coordinate federal efforts to support responsible fatherhood programs and father engagement.15 Led by the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the Office of Public Engagement, and the Domestic Policy Council, the group consists of members from the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justices, Labor, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Corporation for National and Community Service and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. There is a range of fatherhood initiatives within each department that all share the common goal of supporting responsible fatherhood and fathers in the community. Fatherhood initiatives include, among others, promoting fatherhood in the workplace through work-family balance solutions, equipping fathers to participate in the education and financial security for their children through adult literacy programs, and ensuring successful reentry after incarceration through responsible fatherhood programs.16 Currently, no information is available on the Trump administration’s plans to support responsible fatherhood efforts.
Several states have developed broad state-led initiatives to address some of the systematic challenges that fathers and fatherhood programming face.
Texas has recognized the important role that fathers play in the lives of their children and families, and also how challenging it can be for some fathers to be involved. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Prevention and Early Intervention Division (PEI) developed the Educating Fathers for Empowering Children Tomorrow (EFFECT) Program in 2013 to support fathers and strengthen families through evidence-based fatherhood programs across the state. EFFECT aims to improve children’s wellbeing by helping fathers become more involved, responsible, and committed to their children through parent education skills, guidance, and support systems.17 Additionally, EFFECT aims to increase protective factors—family functioning and resilience, social support, knowledge of parenting and child development, concrete support, and nurturing and attachment—to reduce the risk of child maltreatment and to promote positive family wellbeing.18 In addition to investing in fatherhood programs through EFFECT, Texas is committed to considering a broader system of supports for fathers. This broader agenda includes gathering key stakeholders, such as program providers, researchers, and state agencies, to assess the state of fatherhood in the state at the annual Texas Fatherhood Summit, convening state agency leaders to identify gaps in service provision and opportunities for collaboration across agencies through the Texas Fatherhood Interagency Council, and championing the use of a father-inclusive lens in programs and services for families and the general public. PEI also partnered with the Child and Family Research Partnership (CFRP) at The University of Texas at Austin to conduct a comprehensive evaluation using a mixed-methods approach that relied on administrative and survey data collected from fathers participating in the EFFECT Program, literature reviews, and interviews with key fatherhood stakeholders, program administrators and staff, and fathers.
Fathers in Connecticut are served through the Connecticut Department of Social Services’ John S. Martinez Fatherhood Initiative of Connecticut. Established in 1999 by bipartisan legislation, the broad-based, multi-agency, statewide program provides many services common to fatherhood programming, including intensive case management, economic stability assistance, group education, and counseling sessions. A key aspect of the Initiative is a certification process for fatherhood programs in the state, which ensures consistency and quality of service delivery to low-income, noncustodial fathers and their families, and recognizes fatherhood programs that have demonstrated exemplary practice.19 The process also allows certified fatherhood programs to offer the State-Owed Arrearage Adjustment Program for eligible participants.20 Connecticut’s Initiative has established a quasi-experimental design system to evaluate the fatherhood programs it helps to coordinate.21 The evaluation collected demographic information on the almost 4,000 participants who enrolled in the Promoting Fatherhood Project from 2006 to 2011.22 The evaluation found that fathers in the program reported needing assistance in education, job training, housing, outstanding child support, parenting time, co-parenting, and parenting skills. The Promoting Fatherhood Project was encouraged to partner with the Department of Education, Department of Labor, and Department of Corrections, the State Department of Social Services, and the Connecticut Court Support Services Division to provide services to fathers. The evaluation also recommended that the Promoting Fatherhood Project reach out to the Departments of Transportation, Motor Vehicles, and Public Health to improve fathers’ access to services, such as reliable transportation, documentation such as drivers’ licenses or birth certificates, and physical and mental health treatment.23
Another noteworthy state-led initiative is the Ohio Commission on Fatherhood (OCF), established in 1999. Commissioners of the OCF include representatives from different state agencies, the Ohio Governor’s designee, bipartisan members of the Ohio House and Senate, and exemplary citizens chosen based on their knowledge and experience working in the field of fatherhood. Housed in the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, the OCF strives to support low-income fathers through a four-strategy approach: funding fatherhood programs, including developing pilot programs and funding community-based initiatives; training professionals on how to promote responsible fatherhood; engaging in the community; and developing policy recommendations to further the field of fatherhood. This multidimensional, broad-based framework helps promote father engagement across all levels of society and strategically tackle the diverse barriers that fathers face as they try to become better parents, partners, and providers by providing supports ranging from employment skills to low-income, noncustodial fathers, to reentry services for fathers recently released from incarceration.24 The OCF helps coordinate a variety of programs and events to promote father engagement. One example is its County Fatherhood Initiative, which offers resources to county leadership in the state, such as training for conducting needs and asset assessments, planning for fatherhood summits, assistance for implementing community action plans, and grant money to begin or continue fatherhood programs in the community.25 Additionally, the OCF provides funding for organizations to host father-child events during Responsible Fatherhood Month in June, and hosts an annual Fatherhood Summit each year to more than 300 fatherhood and family-service practitioners, county and state agency staff, and community members.26
Similar to Ohio, Hawaii established a State Commission on Fatherhood (COF) in 2003. The Commission provides advisory services to state agencies, as well as recommendations for laws, programs, and policies that target children and families.27 In addition to serving as a clearinghouse and coordinating body for all government and nongovernmental activities and information around responsible fatherhood, the Commission promotes and financially supports programs for fathers, raises public awareness about the importance of father involvement, recognizes outstanding fathers and fatherhood programs in the state, and identifies and supports best practices in father involvement. The COF collaborates with the University of Hawaii Center on the Family to produce the State of Fathers in the State of Hawaii, a report that provides a snapshot of the fatherhood landscape in Hawaii, and identifies the differences and similarities between fathers in Hawaii and the mainland.28 Although it is administratively housed within the Department of Human Services, the eight commissioners in the COF are all volunteers; their backgrounds range from working in the corrections system to social work to religious institutions.29
The Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood (ICRF) was founded by the Illinois State Legislature in 2003.30 To accomplish its mission of increasing the number of children with involved and responsible fathers, the ICRF works in four main areas: raising awareness of the impacts of father absence; providing state agencies and service providers with resources for promoting responsible fatherhood; promoting cultural change within state agencies and service providers to acknowledge fathers as parents; and advocating for programs and policies that encourage positive father involvement.31 The ICRF hosts an annual symposium for fathers and faith and community leaders to increase public awareness of the importance of father involvement; it also shares resources for fathers and fatherhood organizations in Illinois on its website.32 The ICRF provides guidance and suggestions on legislation and policy pertaining to fathers, including the new Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity Form, and child support debt forgiveness.33 It also publishes annual reports outlining its yearly goals, achievements, and plans for the following year.34
In 2009, the Pennsylvania State Roundtable identified father involvement in child dependency matters as a priority and created the Fatherhood Engagement Workgroup. The Workgroup’s vision is that positive connections between children and their fathers are achieved and nurtured by prompt identification, outreach, and engagement in services that recognize fathers’ unique strengths and are tailored to meet each father’s individual needs.35 The group examines current levels of father involvement in child dependency matters, studies state and national best practices, and recommends specific action items to enhance father engagement, including the need for case planning and services to provide equal effort to support both mothers and fathers, planning meetings and court hearings that involve fathers, and assessing and developing father-friendly services and practices.36
In addition to promoting fatherhood broadly, states also provide direct services to fathers in a variety of settings. Texas has many programs specifically for fathers provided through multiple agencies including the Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) and Child Protective Services (CPS) divisions at the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD), and the Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division (OAG).37 To support teen parents, New Mexico’s state-funded GRADS program provides an in-school curriculum that covers prenatal care, parenting, child development, healthy relationships and support systems, and economic independence.38 Administered by the New Mexico Public Education Department, the GRADS program has expanded since its creation in 1989 to include Fatherhood Programs, on-site child care centers, and career readiness services.39 The Healthy Montana Teen Parent Program works with teen parents in community-based organizations and high schools, providing family support services, health service referrals, parenting education, and father involvement and other support services.40
Although most states provide reentry services and training for incarcerated or recently released parents, about half of states also offer parenting classes at one or more correctional facilities through their Departments of Corrections with partners in the state. States providing parenting programs for incarcerated fathers include Alabama,41 Alaska,42 Colorado,43 Idaho,44 Kansas,45 Kentucky,46 Louisiana,47 Maine,48 Nebraska,49 New Jersey,50 New Hampshire,51 North Dakota,52 Pennsylvania,53 Rhode Island,54 South Carolina,55 Utah,56 Virginia,57 Washington State,58 Washington D.C.,59 and West Virginia.60 For example, New Hampshire offers an 18-hour parenting program based on the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension’s Family Focus Curriculum at all state prisons, as well as parenting support groups, healthy relationship classes, seminars, and other resources.61 In Nebraska, the Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) is a self-operating school district. In addition to Adult Basic Education (ABE), Adult Secondary Education (ASE), and vocational training, the NDCS offers relationship, life skills, and parenting programs for inmates.62 Facilities in Kansas choose to offer either the InsideOut or Active Parenting Now programs, and can combine them with Play and Learn classes, in which inmates can apply the skills from the curricula with their children in a supervised setting.63 Washington has implemented two Parenting Sentencing Alternatives to keep nonviolent offenders with minor children out of prison: the Family and Offender Sentencing Alternative (FOSA), in which offenders’ sentences are waived and they are placed under community supervision, and the Community Parenting Alternative (CPA), a partial confinement program in which offenders remain under electronic monitoring surveillance.64 These two programs are in addition to Washington’s Strength in Families program, which is a parenting, relationship, and employment readiness program for soon-to-be-released prisoners.
States also work with families involved in their child welfare systems, providing parent education and support services. Very few of these states, however, specifically reach out to fathers involved in the system. Similar to Texas’ Child Protective Services’ (CPS) Responsible Fathering Initiative, Indiana’s Department of Child Services (DCS) sets an example of how to work with fathers.65 DCS partners with local organizations in each region as part of its Father Engagement Program. Fathers of children with Informal Adjustments (IA), or children classified as a Child in Need of Services (CHIN) or Juvenile Delinquent/Juvenile Status (JD/JS) are referred to a partner organization by their DCS case manager. The program helps fathers navigate the DCS system, increase their contact with their child(ren), and connect to support services to strengthen the family. Father Engagement Services staff also serve as advocates for fathers who must appear in court on behalf of their child(ren).66
A handful of cities and counties also have taken the initiative to develop innovative fatherhood programming in their jurisdictions.
Under Mayor Bloomberg, New York City began NYC Dads, the Mayor’s Fatherhood Initiative. Started in 2010, the citywide multi-agency initiative includes 14 agencies, which offer programs that support father involvement ranging from family reunification programs for incarcerated fathers to employment programs at housing authorities.67 NYC Dads’ website not only offers information on fatherhood programs and services, including an extensive list on employment and training resources, but it also lists free or low-cost activities for children and their fathers, as well as book recommendations.68 Resources remain available on the initiative’s website, although it appears that the initiative has stalled under the current mayoral administration.
Counties across the country have taken a variety of approaches to support fathers. For example, counties in California created the FIRST 5 Commission in 1998 to support children and families at the county level during the first five years of life. FIRST 5 of San Mateo County and FIRST 5 of Santa Clara County have had success in providing resources and implementing programming specifically for fathers through the FIRST 5 framework. Although FIRST 5 is a state-level initiative, the organization and execution of its programming is delegated to the counties’ locally appointed commissions. In 2007, the FIRST 5 of Santa Clara County Commission joined forces with the Mexican American Community Services Agency to develop the Fatherhood/Male Collaborative, which seeks to develop programs and services that help fathers become positive influences for their families and children, including parenting workshops, job training, and education, and child visitation and child support assistance.69 FIRST 5 of San Mateo County has implemented a Dad’s Workgroup, which consists of representatives from across state and county agencies to determine fatherhood engagement strategies for at-risk fathers, as well as a “Daddy’s Tool Bag” DVD that aims to provide fathers with the support and confidence to develop secure attachment with their young children.70
In Ohio, the Cuyahoga County Fatherhood Initiative (CCFI) hosts a variety of activities to promote father involvement for children of all ages. In addition to public awareness campaigns, the CCFI funds a 211 Fatherhood line, a variety of parenting classes and workshops for fathers and expectant fathers, workforce training programs, and supervised visitation, custody, and parenting time programs, among others.71
Professional Networks and Partnerships
The field of fatherhood has seen an increase in organizations that are dedicated to building the profession of fatherhood practitioners and service providers who assist fathers and families in their communities by providing training and networking opportunities.
One such organization is the Colorado Practitioner Network for Fathers & Families (CPNFF), which began in 1996 to support father involvement and responsible fatherhood in Colorado. Currently housed in Families First, CPNFF comprises a leadership team, work teams, task forces, and a forum. CPNFF operates across the state to promote the establishment of fatherhood programs; provide opportunities for networking, information-sharing, and training for fatherhood professionals, service providers, and stakeholders; and support community-based programming and services.72
Ohio has also recognized the value of a fatherhood practitioner network. The Ohio Practitioners’ Network for Fathers and Families (OPNFF) formed in 2003 to advance a fatherhood and family agenda through a partnership with public agencies, grassroots faith and community organizations, and local and state government entities. With more than 700 organizational members, OPNFF’s influence spans across the entire state of Ohio, in both urban and rural areas, to provide networking, training, resources, policy research, advocacy, and other support to fatherhood professionals.73
The Minnesota Fathers & Families Network (MFFN) is an organization established to support practitioners and agencies on issues related to fathers and fatherhood in Minnesota. MFFN’s vision is that healthy communities, healthy families, and healthy fathers each play an integral role in achievement of the others, and that these relationships should be promoted through informed practice, public policy, and system change. The network supports this mission by increasing the capacity and network of fatherhood professionals in the state, maintaining awareness of legislation and policy affecting fathers and families, and providing leadership and opportunities throughout Minnesota to advance fatherhood programming and services.74
The Delaware Fatherhood and Family Coalition (DFFC) is an advocacy coalition that champions father involvement. The coalition works with state, faith-based, community, and grassroots organizations, as well as with parents and leaders to develop and implement a comprehensive approach to supporting father involvement. Its work includes building local capacity to provide fatherhood and relationship education, providing this education to fathers, increasing public awareness of the importance of father involvement, and promoting the fatherhood and relationship supports offered by DFCC members.75
Nonprofit Initiatives and Collaborations
Throughout the country, communities have formed collaborative networks and initiatives to have a greater impact on fatherhood by directly serving fathers. Nonprofit organizations, foundations, and health centers are collaborating—sometimes with state or local government—to promote father involvement, raise awareness of the importance of fathers, and provide direct services to fathers in their area.
Several collaboratives exist at the state level. In 1997, the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative (IFI) was founded to connect children and fathers through fathers’ active engagement in the education of children, making it the first statewide, nonprofit fatherhood initiative in the United States. IFI uses strategic collaborations and alliances across private, nonprofit, and government sectors to address a variety of issues related to fatherhood, including the implementation of programs that inspire and equip men to become engaged with their children; to learn how to balance their careers and their families; and to create safe and secure learning environments for children. IFI also sponsors events, scholarships, and award programs related to fatherhood, such as its fatherhood essay contest, college internship initiative, and mentoring program that pairs adults with young men ranging from third grade to high school students.76
Illinois’ Fathers for New Futures (FNF) hosts the Power of Fathers Symposium, a statewide collaborative of nonprofits that seeks to strengthen and support low-income minority fathers in developing relationships with their children, families, and communities.77 Among its programs, FNF provides job readiness training, parent education, case management, child support information, and additional services to young fathers and men trying to reconnect with their families.78 FNF also hosts a working group of practitioners, and research and policy experts that supports outcomes for children of noncustodial, African-American fathers.79
The Indiana Fatherhood Coalition (IFC) is a statewide resource for fathers that consists of organizations working to increase involvement of men—fathers, uncles, stepfathers, grandfathers, or other father figures—in the lives of children. The Coalition acts as an information portal for men to learn important ways to be better fathers, as well as sponsors or supports events and programming that contribute to the overall mission of IFC, such as the annual Indiana Dads Expo.80
The South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families, based in Columbia, South Carolina, supports six fatherhood programs in 12 communities throughout the state. The Center is an outgrowth of the fatherhood initiative “Reducing Poverty through Father Engagement,” sponsored by the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina in 1997, as well as the public-private partnership between the Foundation and the South Carolina Department of Social Services. The Center’s programming promotes father-friendly policies and practices to erase negative stereotypes of unmarried, low-income dads. The Center aims to enable and inform a larger field of fatherhood practitioners and decision-makers by sharing policies, practices, and lessons learned from its on-the-ground programming.81
The Washington State Fathers Network is a coalition of fathers with children who have special needs. The network seeks to connect the fathers with one another and with resources, information, and education to assist them in becoming more competent and compassionate caregivers for their children. The network’s activities span a wide range, from chapter meetings across the state, to events such as the annual Fathers Conference or camping trips, to management and advocacy services to promote the interests and needs of fathers within the organization. The network is affiliated with a variety of other organizations that also provide services for fathers.82
The Fatherhood Task Force of South Florida offers a regional model by serving male family members, including fathers, grandfathers, and uncles, as well as men who serve as significant male role models for children. The Task Force operates through a partnership between agencies and organizations throughout South Florida. In addition to maintaining a clearinghouse of research on fatherhood, the Task Force also offers programming including Fathers in Education Day, Fathers in Action, and Advocacy Week, and workshops highlighting the importance of fathers for the social and emotional development in their children.83
Collaboratives in Milwaukee, Cleveland, Baltimore, and Indianapolis work at the metropolitan level. In Milwaukee, following a training session of community leaders by the National Fatherhood Initiative in 2005, the mayor and planning committee formed the Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative (MFI). Among other initiatives, the MFI hosts an annual summit on fatherhood for fathers and responsible fatherhood stakeholders. Fathers who attend the summit workshops are eligible for a credit toward back child support owed to the state.84
The Healthy Fathering Collaborative of Greater Cleveland (HFC) is a network of public and private agencies that aims to provide education, services, and support directly to fathers throughout the lifespan of fatherhood, from pre-conception and pregnancy to childbirth, early childhood, and parenting school-age children.85 Member agencies provide four types of services: programs that help fathers address barriers that impact their involvement with their children; supportive services for fathers; fatherhood development programs; and father-child social/recreational event programs.86
In Baltimore, the Center for Urban Families sponsors the Baltimore Responsible Fatherhood Project (BRFP), which serves low-income fathers and communities to increase fathers’ emotional and financial support of their families. BRFP delivers services through a comprehensive three-month cohort model of case management, support service referrals, and education workshops to increase child support awareness and management, improve parenting and healthy relationship skills, and increase job readiness and employability among its fathers.87
The Fathers and Families Center (FFC), a United Way of Central Indiana member agency in Indianapolis, serves fathers and expectant fathers through its federal, state, and locally supported initiatives that promote responsible fatherhood, increased child support, healthy marriage, noncustodial father involvement, ex-offender reentry, and crime prevention. Originally developed by the Wishard Hospital’s Social Work Department as a means to address the high single-parent birth rate and the invisibility of young fathers in the area, FFC now offers four areas of programming and services to its fathers: high school equivalency programs; workforce development; college and career programs; and strengthening families and strong fathers.88
If you are part of a program that is not mentioned in this brief, please let CFRP know at firstname.lastname@example.org.