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National network to evaluate fatherhood programs (6/14/2014)

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While 21 percent of U.S. children live in single-mother households, non-resident fathers can still play an important role in their children's lives, influencing many positive outcomes such as high school graduation, better peer relationships, less risk for domestic violence and improved overall well-being. Although most fathers want to be involved with their children, many face significant barriers, which fatherhood programs across the country are trying to eliminate.

To evaluate these fatherhood programs and learn how to best serve low-income fathers, Temple University, in collaboration with the Center for Policy Research (CPR) in Denver, Colo., has launched the Fatherhood Research and Practice Network (FRPN). The FRPN - http://www.frpn.org - is being established through a five-year, $4.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation.

Fatherhood programs, also called responsible fatherhood programs, are defined as programs that provide activities such as parenting and co-parenting classes, employment services and counseling to improve fathers' engagement with their children. Many of these programs began receiving federal funding with passage of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. Currently, there are 120 federally funded responsible fatherhood and healthy marriage programs, with hundreds of other state-, county- and community-based fatherhood programs operating nationwide.

The FRPN seeks to provide researchers and practitioners collaborative opportunities to evaluate fatherhood programs and communicate information that leads to effective fatherhood practice and evaluation research. The project will focus on three specific areas: fathers' engagement with their children, economic security (fathers' ability to provide for themselves and their families) and co-parenting/healthy relationships.

Temple Social Work Professor Jay Fagan will serve as co-director of FRPN, along with Jessica Pearson, director of CPR. Forty nationally recognized fatherhood practitioners, evaluation researchers and policymakers will also provide direction for FRPN.

"This is an exciting opportunity for the fatherhood field," said Fagan. "In order to better serve fathers, we must have an understanding of what types of programs are most effective. The FRPN will help build capacity to support and conduct well designed, scientifically valid evaluation studies that improve program delivery and ultimately, the way dads engage in their children's lives."

While there is a growing body of research on how fathers positively influence child development, there is limited knowledge about which programs are most effective with low-income, non-resident fathers and under-studied populations, he said.

"From an evaluation research perspective, there have historically been limited opportunities for practitioners to work closely with researchers and share information about effective practices in order to improve program delivery and outcomes," said Fagan.

"Researchers have been studying the impact of paternal involvement for decades as federal support for the establishment of fatherhood programs has grown," added Pearson. "However, we have only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to knowledge about effective interventions with low-income, non-resident fathers and under-studied populations."

In addition to funding evaluation projects, FRPN will offer a variety of online and in-person technical assistance resources. It will also connect fatherhood practitioners and researchers based on geographic location and research interest.

The FRPN will allocate a total of $1.2 million to fund projects evaluating fatherhood programs, with $300,000 available for three to five selected projects now.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by the Temple University

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