Inside, Outside, Round and Round

Sustaining Engagement in Responsible Fatherhood Programs

Engaging participants in Responsible Fatherhood programs can be challenging. Fathers who are juggling child care responsibilities while holding down jobs or looking for work may find it difficult to participate in services even when they intend to do so.

To encourage program engagement, the Building Bridges and Bonds (B3) study considered factors in three contexts:

Over the course of the study, the programs implemented a variety of practices to encourage father engagement. While the study is not testing the effectiveness of these practices, the team has documented the programs' experiences. This piece shares what the study has learned so far so that other programs can consider implementing these approaches to encourage father engagement.

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Inside the Program

How can what happens inside your program encourage participation?

Make a Positive First Impression

Welcome fathers with warm, supportive, and empathetic attitudes.

  • Greet each father by name.
  • Hire program staff members who have backgrounds similar to participants' or who recently graduated from the program.

Create a Comfortable Environment

Offer friendly spaces for services and design décor to encourage participants to connect with their identities as fathers and showcase their successes.

  • Hold father-child services in colorful spaces with children’s books and toys.
  • Decorate with photos of fathers and children.

Build a Thoughtful Program Structure

Promote intensive participation by carefully planning incentives and the overall program setup.

  • Offer incentives at points when drop-off rates are expected to be highest; for example, after the first session or the first week.
  • Structure services in groups to foster relationships, create accountability and friendship, and keep people coming back.

Incorporate Hands-on Learning

Center program services on hands-on learning and time for reflection.

  • Design services so that participants learn something new, have the opportunity to try it, and reflect on how it went.

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Outside the Program

How can you address outside factors that may discourage participation?

Provide Additional Support

Address basic needs, help connect fathers to outside services, and offer resources as needed to help with daily challenges and encourage participation.

  • Refer fathers to family court resources, housing assistance, and child support services.
  • Supply appropriate clothing for job interviews.

Respond to Competing Demands

Acknowledge and help address outside sources of stress (for example, job searches, financial strains, custody negotiations, and child care).

  • Work to satisfy requirements from other systems, such as child welfare visitation and probation, with program participation.
  • With the father’s permission, provide the child's co-parent and other primary caregivers with information about what the father will be learning in the program and how it benefits the child and family.

Address Common Logistical Problems

Make it easy to attend by offsetting travel costs and being flexible with timing and locations.

  • Provide bus and subway travel vouchers.
  • Conduct one-on-one services in the community where most convenient for participants, when needed.

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Round and Round

How can you support continual cycles of learning over time to improve program engagement?

Apply Data-Driven Management

Use program data to monitor and refocus program efforts.

  • Monitor which partners refer fathers who enroll and participate, and focus recruitment efforts there.
  • Change the messages that the program delivers to partners sending fewer fathers.

Use Insights from Behavioral Science

Use strategies and interventions informed by findings about human behavior to communicate with and engage participants.

  • Use old and new technology such as reminder postcards, visual calendars, and custom phone apps to reinforce attendance.

Make Participant Perspectives a Priority

Ask fathers to reflect on their program experiences.

  • After each session, ask fathers to describe what is going well, what they found most important, and how they can incorporate these concepts into their lives.

Document Details

Publication Type
March 2020
2020. “Inside, Outside, Round and Round.” New York: MDRC.