Healthy coparenting and romantic relationships are important for fathers and their children. They can improve fathers’ mental health and well-being and increase their involvement with their children, and parents who have high-quality relationships can support their children’s health and positive development. Many fatherhood programs, including federally funded Responsible Fatherhood (RF) programs, aim to support fathers’ coparenting and romantic relationships by promoting relationship skills such as communication, conflict resolution, and problem solving.

The Coparenting and Healthy Relationship and Marriage Education for Dads (CHaRMED) project aims to build knowledge on how fatherhood programs design and deliver coparenting and romantic relationship services—and how fathers perceive and engage in those services—to help ensure that these programs are better equipped to support fathers’ healthy relationships. The CHaRMED project is conducted by Child Trends, funded by the Office of Family Assistance, and overseen by the Administration of Children and Families’ (ACF) Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE).

Project activities

As part of the CHaRMED project, Child Trends engaged in the following study activities from 2018 to 2022:

Described the characteristics and qualities of the romantic and coparenting relationships of fathers who are likely to participate in fatherhood programs
Documented current services offered by RF programs in the areas of coparenting and romantic relationships
Sought participant and program staff perspectives on coparenting and romantic relationship services, and how these services might be improved
Identified gaps in existing approaches to romantic relationship and coparenting services and identified other approaches and/or resources relevant to address those gaps

Project activities were informed by a variety of sources, including RF grantee continuation applications and progress reports, a literature review and analysis of Supporting Healthy Marriages (SHM) data related to the quality of fathers’ romantic and coparenting relationships, discussions with fatherhood program and research experts, and a qualitative data collection (described below).

CHaRMED qualitative study methods

The larger CHaRMED project included a qualitative study consisting of semi-structured telephone interviews with fatherhood program staff (n= 24), participating fathers (n= 36), and coparents of participating fathers (n= 6) representing nine fatherhood programs across the United States. The interviews assessed fathers’ and program staff’s perceptions of coparenting and romantic relationship services, fathers’ engagement in the services, and perspectives on how fatherhood programs support (or could better support) fathers’ and families’ needs. Interviews were transcribed and coded for emerging themes, and supplemented by a review of program curricula to determine the focus, goals, duration, and target audiences for relationship-related program content.

Publications

Coparenting and Healthy Relationship and Marriage Education for Dads (CHaRMED): Results from a Qualitative Study of Staff and Participant Experiences in Nine Fatherhood Programs

This report presents findings from a qualitative study conducted as part of the CHaRMED project. Its purpose is to inform both ACF and the broader fatherhood practice and research fields about how fatherhood programs support or could better support fathers’ healthy coparenting and romantic relationships.

Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic for Supporting Fathers’ Relationships in Fatherhood Programs

This brief describes how the COVID-19 pandemic affected fathers’ coparenting and romantic relationships, describes the pandemic’s impacts on relationship programming, and offers strategies for fatherhood programs to better support fathers’ relationships.

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

This blog briefly summarizes five important lessons learned from the CHaRMED project that can inform how fatherhood program practitioners support fathers’ relationships and improve their—and their families’—well-being.  

Resources for Supporting Healthy Relationships in Fatherhood Programs

This brief identified common barriers that fatherhood programs face when addressing healthy relationships with fathers. Barriers include engaging fathers in romantic relationship content, implementing approaches for coparent engagement in relationship education, and providing support for fathers navigating legal systems that can affect their coparenting relationships.  

The resources included in this brief offer strategies to help fatherhood programs overcome these barriers and better support the fathers in their programs. Specifically, the resources offer strategies fatherhood program staff can use to tailor romantic relationship program content to fathers’ differing strengths and needs and increase engagement in romantic relationships services, to engage coparents in programming, and to help fathers navigate or self-advocate within these legal and social systems. 

Strategies to support healthy relationships for American Indian and Alaska Native fathers

Coparenting and romantic relationships are shaped by a range of contextual factors, such as differing family structures, economic circumstances, and involvement with child welfare and justice systems. When fatherhood programs engage American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) fathers, it is important that they consider contexts such as the diverse cultural traditions, histories, and unique political status of Tribes as sovereign nations. Many AIAN cultures have core teachings and ceremonies that emphasize the importance of respecting and honoring relationships with family, community, and other aspects of one’s environment that can support healthy coparenting and romantic relationships. However, historical trauma impacts AIAN fathers’ access to these teachings, as well as their relationships and family functioning. This brief provides practice-based, contextually relevant strategies that fatherhood programs serving AIAN fathers can use to support their healthy coparenting and romantic relationships. 

Understanding fathers’ experiences of stigma and discrimination to better deliver healthy relationship education in fatherhood programs

External factors can profoundly affect fathers’ lives and relationships, despite the effort of fatherhood programs to support fathers as they develop and maintain healthy coparenting and romantic relationships. Stigma and discrimination have direct and indirect effects on fathers’ relationships, as well as a program’s ability to engage and support fathers. This resource summarizes some ways in which some fathers in fatherhood programs experience stigma and discrimination related to their culture and racial identities, their roles as fathers in society, and their history of incarceration. Additionally, this brief provides resources to better understand and support fathers through these experiences. 

Fatherhood and coparenting: Strategies for supporting coparenting relationships from a fatherhood perspective

This short article describes how findings from the CHaRMED study, particularly that fathers’ view access to their children as a key challenge in their lives, are relevant for child welfare and other social services agencies focused on engaging fathers in services and supporting coparenting relationships.  

Presentations and Webinars

How Fatherhood Programs Engage Fathers to Promote Healthy Relationships (Research and Evaluation Conference on Self-Sufficiency (RECS), 2020)

This presentation, part of a panel presentation entitled “Engaging Fathers Across Human Service Agencies,” describes the CHaRMED study and objectives and the study’s sample, and explores observations from the data collection process, including those related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

How Fatherhood Programs Engage Fathers to Promote Healthy Relationships (Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) Conference, 2020)

This presentation, part of a panel presentation entitled “Engaging Fathers Across Human Services Agencies,” shares experiences and challenges from ongoing data collection efforts, as well as implications for engaging fathers in content related to healthy relationships.

How Fatherhood Programs Support Fathers’ Coparenting and Romantic Relationships (National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) Conference, 2021)

This poster presentation shares key findings from interviews with fatherhood program staff, participating fathers, and coparents of participating fathers conducted as part of the CHaRMED qualitative study.

Supporting Healthy Coparenting and Intimate Relationships in Fatherhood Programs

This webinar highlighted findings from the CHaRMED study and provided practitioners with strategies that can be used to support fathers’ relationships. Representatives from four fatherhood programs shared their experiences addressing coparenting and romantic or intimate partner relationships with fathers. Various topics were covered, including the relationship services offered by programs, ways to address coparenting and coparent engagement in programming, how to support fathers who are navigating legal and/or social systems, and approaches to delivering relationship programming virtually. 

Strategies for Addressing Healthy Relationships in Fatherhood Programs – Lessons Learned from the CHaRMED Study (Research and Evaluation Conference on Self-Sufficiency (RECS), 2022)

This conference session included three presentations focused on different topics. The first presentation provided an overview of the CHaRMED study and described lessons learned for addressing healthy coparenting and romantic or intimate relationships with fathers who have diverse relationship experiences, needs, and opportunities. The second presentation described the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on fathers’ relationships as well as relationship programming, and the third presentation shared special considerations when addressing relationships with American Indian and Alaska Native fathers. In culmination, the presentations highlight implications for both research and practice fields.  

Project Team

Contracting Office Representatives