Auburn researchers find fatherhood programs effective for strengthening families

Published: December 12, 2019
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Fatherhood programs are designed to support noncustodial fathers across the country in their efforts to provide for their children emotionally, socially and economically. Evaluation studies of these programs have been limited over the past 20 years; however, a recent study from Auburn University College of Human Sciences researchers, released by the Fatherhood Research and Practice Network, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, suggests the programs in Alabama are successful over at least a one-year period in key target areas that indicate family well-being.

“Our study is one of the few in the country to follow a large, diverse group of fatherhood program participants over time and to find significant growth in multiple indicators of economic stability and individual and family well-being,” said principal investigator Francesca Adler-Baeder. “This is encouraging news for the state and local agencies in their efforts to strengthen Alabama families and promote economic self-sufficiency.”

Adler-Baeder, Julianne McGill, Ami Landers and Rachel Odomes from Auburn’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies, along with Alexander Chan of the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, partnered with the Alabama Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention, the Alabama Department of Human Resources and more than 20 local agencies to conduct the study. They surveyed 630 noncustodial, non-incarcerated fathers participating in fatherhood programs that provide job and family life skills training and support.

From the start of the program to one year following, fathers reported growth in 14 of 15 target outcomes: relationship stability, communication skills, conflict management skills, co-parenting relationship quality, dating abuse prevention skills, hope for the future, positive parenting behaviors, father involvement, parent-child relationship quality, child academic adjustment, financial responsibility, commitment to cooperate with child support staff and to pay full child support and monthly income.  They also experienced a significant improvement over time in their job status, with larger proportions in part-time and full-time work compared to before the program. Despite the income and job status improvements, the average score on their perception of economic stability remained stable.

“This report affirms our work and conviction that the fatherhood programs are truly making a difference,” said Sallye Longshore, director of the Alabama Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention. “Engaging and connecting fathers to appropriate services and supports strengthens the role they play in their child’s life and improves family and child well-being.”

Researchers noted that these outcome areas align with the Strengthening Families framework that suggests five critical protective factors for children: parent/family resilience, social connections, knowledge of parenting and child development, social and emotional competence of children and concrete support in times of need.

In addition, the study is one of the first to examine variations in experiences based on geographic location, order of services and ethnicity. At program start, urban fathers and ethnic minority fathers reported comparatively more economic challenges; white fathers reported more individual workplace challenges. Over time, rural fathers and ethnic minority fathers reported less growth in economic stability, suggesting the influence of institutional barriers. They also found that offering case management services before skills training was related to higher program attendance and completion rates, as well as greater improvements in parent-child relationship quality and hope for the future.

These results provide information on the value of the programs and will serve to inform practitioners’ and policymakers’ efforts to better meet the needs of diverse fathers and families through added attention and support in areas of specific vulnerability. 

“Children need the love and support of both parents, and supporting fathers enables them to be better parents. The fatherhood initiative helps not only the children, but the entire family and community, as those programs assist fathers in preparing for and locating jobs,” said Nancy Buckner, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Human Resources. “I appreciate the strong partnership DHR has with the Alabama Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention and Auburn University in helping fathers improve their lives and the lives of their children.”

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