Making Good on Fatherhood: A Review of the Fatherhood Research

CFRP Report |  R.007.0116

January 2016

PDF version


Over the past several decades, father involvement has increased dramatically.1 A 2013 report from the Pew Research Center shows that since 1965, fathers have nearly tripled the time they spend with their children.2 The general rise in paternal involvement has been accompanied by an evolving notion of fatherhood, as old conceptions of the father as “distant breadwinner” or male “role model” have given way to a more holistic rendering of the father as “equal co-parent.”3 Alongside these changes, researchers and academics have demonstrated a growing interest in studying the role that fathers play in the lives of their children. Findings from these studies have overwhelmingly shown that children with involved fathers fare better across a wide range of domains when compared to their counterparts without an active father. Yet 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. Though fatherhood programs take a variety of approaches towards achieving these ends, they share the common goal of ensuring that fathers are positively involved in their children’s lives. Despite state and federal funding for these programs now numbering in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year, few fatherhood programs have undergone rigorous evaluation. As a result, policymakers and program administrators have a limited understanding of their effectiveness.

Recognizing this gap in knowledge, the Texas Department of Family Protective Services, Prevention and Early Intervention Division (DFPS PEI) contracted with the Child and Family Research Partnership (CFRP) at UT Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs to develop a comprehensive approach to supporting Texas fathers. This report takes the first step toward that goal by surveying the state of fatherhood programs, both nationally and throughout the state of Texas. It begins by tracing the history of fatherhood programs over the last several decades, paying special attention to the evolution in focus and funding of these efforts. Next, it examines the evidence base for fatherhood programs, highlighting the extent to which programs have worked to strengthen fathers’ involvement, parenting skills, relationship quality, and economic stability. Child abuse prevention programs are reviewed as well. The report then canvasses a slate of ongoing programs and evaluations currently underway, the majority of which are supported through the U.S. Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (ACF OPRE). The final section concludes with a look at the importance of program evaluation and measurement as key tools for improving the evidence base for fatherhood programs in this country.

The appendix of this report contains several additional resources, including a preliminary inventory of fatherhood initiatives within the state of Texas, and a summary table of the more rigorous evaluations conducted on fatherhood programs throughout the country. Both appendices are living documents, and will ultimately help to guide CFRP’s evaluation of several DFPS-funded fatherhood programs. In addition, this report lays the conceptual groundwork for two fatherhood summits, jointly convened by DFPS PEI and CFRP. A primary goal of the fatherhood summits is to assemble key stakeholders in the field of fatherhood for a discussion on the current and future state of fatherhood programming. 

Click here to read the full report (PDF).

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