Fatherhood Programs Can Support Fathers’ Healthy Relationships With Children and Coparents

Publication Date:

June 16, 2022

Fathers’ role within families has gradually evolved from traditional family breadwinner to that of more full and equal coparent involved in all aspects of caregiving. Research has shown that positive father-child involvement leads to better outcomes for children and families, and a critical component of improving fathers’ involvement with their children is supporting their coparenting and romantic or intimate relationships. In addition to providing parenting and economic stability services, fatherhood programs that receive federal funding[1] are required by the Office of Family Assistance (OFA) to provide relationship education, which positions them ideally to help fathers establish and maintain healthy relationships.

In the past three years, Child Trends’ Coparenting and Healthy Relationship and Marriage Education for Dads (CHaRMED) project[2] has aimed to better understand how fatherhood programs support fathers’ coparenting and intimate relationships. Here, we’d like to highlight some important lessons learned from CHaRMED that can inform how fatherhood program practitioners support fathers’ relationships and improve their—and their families’—well-being.

1. Tailoring curricula to participants can make relationship education more relevant for fathers.

Some fatherhood programs that participated in the CHaRMED study adapted existing curricula or designed their own to ensure that relationship content better resonated with their participating fathers. For example, one fatherhood program that works with American Indian and Alaska Native fathers has incorporated culturally relevant case examples into existing program curricula to more meaningfully connect with fathers in Tribal settings.

2. Fathers feel more connected to healthy relationship programming when they build personal connections with program staff and other participating fathers, often via group discussions that cultivate a safe space.

While many fathers were not initially interested in healthy relationship content, they become more engaged in relationship services upon finding a sense of trust, safety, and camaraderie. Program facilitators play a key role in creating and maintaining this safe space for fathers to share their experiences.

3. Many fathers are eager to build their coparenting skills.

Later this year, we will release more research to help fatherhood programs better serve fathers and their families. Please visit the project page for updates and forthcoming publications.

Footnotes

[1] The Office of Family Assistance (OFA) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration of Children and Families oversees and funds organizations across the United States to provide Responsible Fatherhood services.

[2] The CHaRMED project is funded by OFA and overseen by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE).