In Their Own Voices: The Hopes and Struggles of Responsible Fatherhood Program Participants in the Parents and Children Together Evaluation
Key themes and findings that emerged from fathers’ narratives included:
- The men often described childhoods marked by poverty and family instability, including absent fathers, exposure to substance abuse, conflict, and neglect.
- As fathers, these men desired to “be there” for their children and to help them avoid the same mistakes they had made.
- Fathers voluntarily enrolled in the RF programs primarily to become better fathers and to find steady employment.
- According to the fathers, the most common barrier to their involvement with their children was the ongoing contentious relationships with the mothers of their children.
- As they sought to become more involved and supportive fathers, these men often faced formidable, interrelated life challenges.
The Parents and Children Together (PACT) evaluation, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is examining a set of Responsible Fatherhood (RF) and Healthy grantees funded by ACF’s Office of Family Assistance. One part of the evaluation—the qualitative study—focuses on the views and experiences of fathers who voluntarily enroll and participate in RF programs.
This report describes themes and findings from the first round of in-depth interviews conducted as part of the qualitative study. Interviews were held with 87 low-income, mostly noncustodial fathers who voluntarily enrolled in one of the four RF programs being studied in PACT. This report draws extensively on quotes from fathers to paint a detailed portrait of their lives, including their own childhoods, views on fathering, relationships with their children and the mothers of their children, personal challenges, employment and child support experiences, and their participation in the fatherhood programs.
The findings from the report suggest that the core services required by RF grant conditions—parenting and fatherhood, economic stability, and relationships—have tremendous potential to better fathers’ lives and enhance their children’s well-being.
The in-depth interview findings suggest a variety of policies and strategies that could potentially strengthen RF programs in helping low-income fathers: playing a more proactive role in helping fathers obtain court-ordered parenting time agreements, offering stronger and more comprehensive co-parenting and relationship skills services, providing augmented employment services, increasing collaboration with the child support and court systems, and expanding and intensifying supplementary services.