Temple, Penn evaluating if ‘responsible fatherhood’ programs are worth the millions spent on them

     Project DAD participants at play. (Image courtesy of People for People, Inc.)

    Project DAD participants at play. (Image courtesy of People for People, Inc.)

    Lots of groups try to instill “responsible fatherhood” in young dads and tens of millions of dollars of government grants have supported these programs.  Now a trio of universities is trying to measure if the programs really work.

    “A lot of federal money has been put into funding these programs,” said Dr. Jay Fagan, co-director and grant recipient for the Fatherhood Research and Practice Network at Temple which just received part of a $4.8 million grant to study the programs. “The impetus [of the grant] is that there has not been very much rigorous evaluation,” he said.

    How much money? In 2005, the Department of Health and Human Services designated $150 million a year to family programs, with up to $50 million available for “responsible fatherhood” programs. In 2010, another $75 million a year for three years was allotted for fatherhood programming specifically. That amounts to $475 million over the last eight years.

    Along with Center for Policy Research in Denver and the National Center on Fathers and Families at the University of Pennsylvania, Fagan and Temple’s School of Social Work received a $4.8 million dollar grant in November to lead an evaluation of these programs nationwide.

    “The question of what it means to be a responsible father…it’s not real clear what we mean by that,” said Fagan.

    Broken down into three basic umbrella areas, responsible fatherhood programs teach parenting techniques, co-parenting strategies – sometimes encouraging couples to marry – and job-readiness skills. What gets taught in each area differs from program to program.

    The Fatherhood Research and Practice Network aims to answer questions about the impact of responsible fatherhood programs on fathers and families, the quality of parenting they encourage, and what kinds of programs work best, through research grants to individual organizations.

    One possible recipient is People for People, Inc. in North Philadelphia.

    Project D.A.D.

    Focusing on non-custodial fathers, People for People’s Project DAD (which stands for Developing Active Dads) served 275 fathers last year. Courses focus on parenting, healthy relationships, and economic stability.

    Director of Project DAD, Kirk Berry, stresses that there are nearly as many non-custodial situations as there are parents. “Some fathers, they see their children. Some fathers actually live with their children and they still come to our program,” Berry said. “But they don’t have custody they just happen to live in the same house…everyone’s non-custodial situation is completely different.”

    Berry highlights a lack of job interview readiness as a key hurdle for his clients becoming economically stable. “This is not a race thing it’s more about low-income…what you have [to wear] is what you go [to a job interview] in. The first impression is really the best impression and so we help our fathers get two suits, two shirts and two ties so they stand out as the best dressed guys at the interview,” said Berry.

    “Largely, almost unanimously [fathers] want to be involved with their children but there are just incredible barriers to their involvement. They don’t know how to deal with those barriers,” said Fagan.

    Next week, Fagan and his team will discuss the network at the National Child Support Enforcement Association conference in Washington, DC.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.