The Parents and Children Together (PACT) evaluation, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is examining a set of Responsible Fatherhood (RF) and Healthy Marriage (HM) grantees funded by ACF’s Office of Family Assistance (OFA). One part of the evaluation—the qualitative study—focuses on the views and experiences of fathers who voluntarily enroll and participate in RF programs. This report describes themes and findings from the first round of in-depth interviews conducted as part of the qualitative study. Interviews were held with 87 low-income, mostly noncustodial fathers who voluntarily enrolled in one of the four RF programs being studied in PACT. Key themes and findings that emerged from fathers’ narratives include: the men often described childhoods marked by poverty and family instability, including absent fathers, exposure to substance abuse, conflict, and neglect; as fathers, these men desired to “be there” for their children and to help them avoid the same mistakes they had made; fathers voluntarily enrolled in the RF programs primarily to become better fathers and to find steady employment; according to the fathers, the most common barrier to their involvement with their children was the ongoing contentious relationships with the mothers of their children; as they sought to become more involved and supportive fathers, these men often faced formidable, interrelated life challenges. These challenges included the effect of criminal records on their efforts to be stably employed; low wages; child support arrears that had built up during incarceration or unemployment; and difficulty obtaining housing that was both affordable and suitable for children. Implications of the findings for fatherhood policy and program design are discussed. 31 references. (Author abstract modified)
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