Do responsible fatherhood programs work? A comprehensive meta-analytic study.

Apr 2020 | Holmes, E. K., Egginton, B.M., Hawkins, A.J., Robbins, N.L., & Shafer, K.

Objective: To investigate the effectiveness of fatherhood programs targeting unmarried, low-income, nonresident fathers.

Background: Programs for unmarried, nonresident, and low-income fathers increased in number and scope over the past decade. Programs for fathers have typically targeted five broad areas: positive father involvement, parenting, co-parenting, employment, and child support payment.

Method: We conducted a systematic search for published and unpublished evaluations of fathering programs targeting unmarried, never married, and low-income fathers. We identified 25 reports with 30 independent studies. Of these, 21 employed a control–treatment design, and nine employed a one-group/pre–post design.

Results: These programs produce small but statistically significant effects (d = .099, p<.01). We found that only father involvement (d = .114, p<.05), parenting (d = .110, p<.01), and co-parenting (d = .167, p<.05) were significantly affected; the strongest effect size was in co-parenting. Unfortunately, these programs did not significantly influence father employment and economic well-being, nor did they significantly impact father payment of child support.

Conclusion: Although programs for low-income, unmarried, nonresident fathers have a small statistically significant effect, evaluation work may increase the impact of these programs.

Implications: There is a continued need for evaluation focused on unmarried, nonresident, low-income fathers. There is also need for improved statistical reporting, reports of attrition, assessment of child outcomes, observational measures of outcomes, and better assessment of moderators, such as father age, program location, child developmental stage, multipartner fertility, and other barriers to father involvement.

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