Building Bridges and Bonds (B3) Evaluation


Fathers play a unique role in their children’s lives and development, but some fathers face personal or societal barriers to positive involvement with their children — such as low levels of education, stigma from criminal records, declining wages for low-skilled men, or family instability. Responsible Fatherhood programs aim to improve the well-being of low-income fathers and their children by addressing these types of barriers.

On behalf of the Administration for Children and Families’ Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Building Bridges and Bonds (B3) study partnered with Responsible Fatherhood programs and experts in the field to identify high-priority questions and emerging service approaches. Programs use a number of promising models to work with fathers, but rigorous studies have not yet shown which are effective and worth expanding or replicating.

The B3 team is rigorously evaluating three new and emerging service approaches being implemented across Responsible Fatherhood program sites:

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Justice Involved Individuals Seeking Employment: a series of interactive workshops designed for small groups to develop interpersonal skills for the workplace

  2. Just Beginning: five one-on-one sessions designed to enhance a father’s early relationship with his young child

  3. DadTime: a smartphone application to support engagement in the Just Beginning program

These interventions were selected for their emphasis on active skill-building for adults. Each works with fathers to help them learn, do, reflect, and successfully build new capabilities.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

MDRC has assembled a team of leading experts in designing evaluations and providing programmatic technical assistance for demonstration projects. The team is working with six organizations that provide Responsible Fatherhood services.

B3 seeks to inform program operators about the most effective ways to engage fathers and help them become increasingly self-sufficient and responsible parents. The study is designed to test innovative, evidence-informed approaches for fatherhood programs through the evaluation of three separate program components:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Justice Involved Individuals Seeking Employment (CBI-Emp)
    MDRC collaborated with the University of Cincinnati Corrections Institute to develop CBI-Emp, a new approach to employment services. This intervention aims to help fathers involved with the criminal justice system find and retain better jobs with higher earnings. This approach demands more active learning from participants than traditional job readiness curricula and incorporates methods that have been shown to improve outcomes of men in the justice system.

  • Just Beginning, an interactive approach to high-quality parenting
    Just Beginning represents a new way to build the parenting skills of fathers, whether they live with their children or not, and increase coparenting skills. The intervention engages fathers and their children up to age 3 in a series of sessions designed to strengthen their relationships. Using a play-based approach, facilitators rely on Sesame Street videos to support parent learning and a child-friendly space for father-child play. Developed by Georgetown University and the Youth Law Center, Just Beginning includes direct feedback to emphasize and promote reflection on positive examples of parent and child bonding. 

  • DadTime smartphone application
    For fathers who are juggling parenthood, fatherhood program activities, and holding down a job or looking for work, it may be difficult to attend the Just Beginning sessions consistently. In response to this problem, the B3 team collaborated with the developers of the mDAD mobile application and CauseLabs to develop DadTime to improve participant recruitment and engagement. This smartphone-based mobile application provides a father with automated program attendance reminders and a private way to plan how he can apply what he is learning in Just Beginning the next time he is with his child.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

Study enrollment and data collection began in 2016. The evaluation includes a process study and an impact study.

  • The process study will describe who participated in services, how services operated, and the challenges staff members faced. It will provide lessons for the field on key elements for successful program implementation and barriers to overcome when adding these new program components.

  • The impacts of each of the three innovative program components will be rigorously evaluated using a random assignment research design. The impact study will investigate whether adding these new approaches to an existing program improves key outcomes of interest, including employment, father-child relationship quality, and program participation.

Up to 2,200 fathers across six fatherhood programs will enroll in the B3 study.