Improving Father-Child Relationships and Economic Stability: Exploring Fatherhood Initiative Grants

Fatherhood Initiative Grants

Since its inception, fatherhood initiative grants have been subject to many local and federal evaluations. These efforts are designed to improve parent-child relationships and build fathers’ economic stability.

In 2002, President Bush proposed a program to strengthen families through responsible fatherhood initiatives. This would have provided competitive grants to public entities and nonprofit community entities, including religious organizations.

Comprehensive Needs of Fathers

Often, fathers need assistance with a wide variety of issues such as finding employment, managing child support obligations, understanding their children’s development and providing one-on-one mentoring. In addition, they may need help dealing with emotions such as anger and resentment.

To meet these needs, some programs have developed comprehensive services that can provide a spectrum of family support. Other programs focus on specific areas such as parenting skills education and mentorship programs for at-risk male students. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) provides several opportunities for these types of programs to receive funding.

When working with participants, it is important to listen carefully and take their cues. For example, a participant may express an interest in attending more sessions by asking to be reminded ahead of time. It is also important for staff to be aware of their limitations and not overpromise what they can deliver, as this can lead to distrust. Lastly, it is useful for programs to develop relationships with other community service providers who can meet participants’ needs when they are unable to do so themselves.

Evidence-Based Education Programs for Fathers

Some fatherhood programs have incorporated relationship education into their offerings by tailoring curriculum to the needs of participants. For example, one program that works with American Indian and Alaska Native fathers has adapted its existing curricula to ensure that the content is culturally relevant to this population.

Similarly, a fatherhood program working with low-income men involved in the child welfare system has tailored its offering to include educational programming focusing on the role of fathers in reunifying children and families and avoiding maltreatment of children. This offering includes workshops and group training sessions led by trained mental health professionals.

In an effort to improve the way government agencies incorporate the needs of fathers into their services, Congress has twice passed legislation aimed at establishing a nationwide responsible fatherhood grants program. This funding stream would be a part of the Family Assistance and Income Support Block Grant (Title XX) and would include activities that promote marriage, foster responsible parenting, and increase economic stability.

Mentoring Programs

Mentoring programs that focus on fathers can help new and existing fathers with parenting, marriage and relationship advice. They can also teach them about children’s needs and ways to connect with them.

Programs for noncustodial fathers might address issues such as reconciling relationships with their children and overcoming difficulties related to joblessness or incarceration. These programs might also provide parenting skills training and counseling to help them understand their children’s emotional, mental and physical development.

RF grants can be used for activities that promote responsible parenting through counseling, mentoring, mediation, disseminating information about the advantages of marriage and two-parent involvement for children, and skills-based parenting education; and activities that foster economic stability through work first services, job search and job training, subsidized employment, education, etc. In addition to federal funds, a number of states and localities and private organizations operate fatherhood programs using their own resources. This includes nonprofit community groups and religious organizations. Several bills have included responsible fatherhood provisions, including the Fathers Count Act of 1999 and the Welfare Reform and Family Stability Act of 2000.


In response to growing concerns about the increasing numbers of children without fathers in their homes and the negative impact that has on those children, a variety of programs have been developed to promote responsible parenting. Many of these programs have been funded through federal grants under the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood (RF) grant program, a provision of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005.

In addition to providing counseling and mentoring services, most of these programs include family financial planning seminars; information on the benefits of 2-parent involvement for children; divorce education and reduction programs; and coordination with job-training activities. Some programs also provide community-based activities, such as support groups and peer mentoring.

Those programs that work with low-income fathers are often able to offer other services as well, such as advocacy and legal assistance in custody and visitation matters and mediation for parents in co-parenting conflicts. Some also provide group and individual substance abuse treatment, psychiatric services, housing and income supports and other basic needs services.

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