Building Bridges and Bonds (B3) Study Design Report

By Kristen Harknett, Michelle S. Manno, Rekha Balu

Over recent decades, changes in labor markets and in family structure have created substantial barriers for fathers in maintaining stable employment and stable relationships with their children. These challenges are particularly pressing given that fathers’ financial and emotional support for their children provides a critical foundation for child well-being. In response, with funding from the Office of Family Assistance, the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation engaged MDRC to conduct the Building Bridges and Bonds (B3) study. The B3 study is rigorously testing new program approaches to support low-income fathers in working toward economic stability and improved relationships with their children. MDRC is partnering with MEF Associates, Abt SRBI, and Mathematica Policy Research to conduct this study.

This report describes the three new program approaches being evaluated in the B3 study and outlines the research design of the study. The new program components are:

  • the Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Justice Involved Individuals Seeking Employment(CBI-Emp, which works with fathers recently involved with the criminal justice system and aims to encourage sustained employment by improving coping skills, and encouraging positive thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors;

  • the Just Beginning (JB) parenting intervention, which works with fathers and children together to improve the quality of fathers’ interactions with their young children; and

  • the DadTime engagement intervention,which evaluates the effects of a smartphone app that guides and supports fathers in making and following through on plans for attending JB parenting intervention sessions and prompts them to practice the skills they learned at home.

Each of the three added program components will be rigorously evaluated using an experimental research design in which fathers are randomly assigned either to a group offered the added program component or to a services as usual group. All fathers can receive the usual program services, but only fathers randomly assigned to the new program component group are offered the new services. In all, the B3 study is expected to enroll around 2,200 fathers across six Responsible Fatherhood program sites.

The B3 study includes a process study and an impact study. The process study will provide lessons for the field on key elements for successful program implementation as well as barriers to be overcome when adding these new program components. The impact study will provide rigorous evidence of program impacts over a six-month follow-up period.

The B3 study began enrolling fathers and implementing the new program components in the fall of 2016. The B3 study team plans to release initial findings from the process study in 2018 and impact findings for the CBI-Emp, JB, and DadTime engagement interventions in 2019.

Harknett, Kristen, Michelle Manno, and Rekha Balu. 2017. Building Bridges and Bonds (B3) Study Design Report. New York: MDRC.