Fatherhood programs come in many shapes and sizes; some begin as demonstration or grant-funded programs, some as grassroots efforts, and others grow out of pre-existing organizations. Regardless of their origin or structure, launching fatherhood programs is not an easy task. Careful planning and design are important for ensuring success and sustainability throughout the life of a program. To this end, identifying needs, understanding the community, fostering solid partnerships, crafting a thoughtful logic model, and determining the scope of services are important design steps identified by successful practitioners.1 The Responsible Fatherhood Toolkit includes resources and information to assist practitioners with each of these aspects of planning and designing a program. Needs assessments are a crucial part of this process and a good starting point for discovering the needs of the target population and other community stakeholders.
The Toolkit’s section on Needs Assessments recommends that fatherhood programs conduct at least an informal needs assessment and develop an initial asset map in order to gain an understanding of:
1. Experience of key staff
Staff should have a working knowledge of the community in which the program operates, as well as the needs of the target population and the challenges facing participants. Staff ultimately determine whether men commit to a fatherhood program, so it is crucial to begin with an understanding of staff members’ experience when developing key roles and training a team.
2. Existing data
Consistent documentation and evaluation is a key element of launching a new program. Data should be focused on the outcomes the program wants to achieve and help build an evidence base to inform programming in the future. Taking a careful look at what data may already exist will guide collection in the future and help programs avoid duplication of effort. In some cases, it may also offer a baseline for future evaluation efforts.
3. Opportunities for meaningful dialogue among community partners
Forging and maintaining relationships with community partners who serve the same target population is another key element of program success. Identifying potential partners and points of contact from the beginning sets the stage for mutually beneficial collaboration down the line and enables fatherhood programs to offer their participants a fuller array of supports and services.
Taking each of these three factors into account when conducting a needs assessment will ensure that fatherhood programs tailor their services to the community and target population, as well as encourage stability and sustainability for years to come. Needs assessments can be conducted though focus groups, surveys, interviews, or even informal conversations.2 They can come in varying levels of formality. However, no matter which format a program uses, it is important that the voices of the community and other stakeholders are heard and considered throughout the planning and design process.
National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse