Inside the Black Box of Interactions Between Programs and Participants: Re-conceptualizing Subgroups for Fatherhood Program Evaluation. B. Baseline Variables to Consider in Creating Subgroups


Study findings indicate that research on the psychosocial determinants of behavior change among low-income fathers is in its infancy, and there is scant empirical evidence to suggest that these factors shape a father's ability to benefit from a fatherhood program. As such, there is not enough evidence to make concrete recommendations regarding baseline measures of psychosocial factors that should be included in future fatherhood evaluations. However, although the empirical evidence in the fatherhood field is limited, the theoretical basis for considering these factors, as well as empirical evidence from other fields of research (for example, health behavior change), suggest that certain psychosocial factors may predispose some individuals to participate in and benefit from interventions. Building this research base will take years, but the Black Box study findings suggest possible fruitful areas of exploration in an effort to help move the field forward.

A fatherhood program may be differentially effective for fathers who enter the program with different levels or constellations of needs and challenges. One way to assess needs is to examine baseline levels on outcomes targeted by the program. Thus, program evaluators may want to examine variables reflecting the following fatherhood-related outcomes:

·      Employability. A father who lacks the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for viable employment may especially benefit from services designed to make him more employable. Does the father have a high school diploma or GED? What is his employment history? Does he know how to develop a resume and conduct an effective interview? Does he have "soft skills" necessary for employment success, such as the ability to get along with others?

·      Residential status, marital/relationship status, and relationship with child's mother and current partner. The nature and complexity of the father's relationship with his biological children, their mothers, and any current romantic partner and non-biological children with whom he is involved could have implications for services he may need and/or his ability to participate in and benefit from a fatherhood program. Is the father married and living with his biological and adopted children? Or is he in a "fragile family"-unmarried but cohabiting with his biological children and their mother? Or is he a non-custodial parent, living apart from one or more biological children? Is he a "social father," co-residing with unrelated children and their mother? Is he romantically involved, uninvolved, or in an "on-again-off-again" relationship with someone who may or may not be the mother of his children? How well does the father get along with his child's or children's mother(s)? How well does the father get along with his current spouse/partner? What is the quality of these relationships-for example, are they mutually supportive with positive regard, or are they contentious?

·      Parenting and co-parenting. A father who lacks knowledge and skills regarding positive, engaged parenting and cooperative co-parenting may especially benefit from services designed to improve these skills. What are the father's attitudes, knowledge, and skills related to parenting and co-parenting? What are his views of fatherhood-for example, what it means to be a "good father," and the importance he places on the parenting role? How much does the father know about child development and effective parenting strategies? How well does he teach and otherwise support his child's learning? How well does he support his child emotionally? To what extent does the father collaborate or disagree with his child's mother about child-rearing?

In addition, individual and interpersonal factors shown and/or hypothesized to predict outcomes among low-income fathers may serve as good subgrouping variables because these, too, reflect potential service needs. Even if these factors are not directly targeted by a fatherhood program, these realities in men's lives may shape their inclination or ability to fully engage in services, which, in turn, could affect the likelihood that the program is effective. Such individual and interpersonal factors include:

·      Personal history. Did the father receive sufficient care and attention as a child, or was he abused or neglected? What was the nature of his relationship with his parents, perhaps especially his father?

·      Identity. How central is being a good father, co-parent, provider, worker, and spouse/partner to the father's identity? Is the father's personality conducive to making positive changes in his life? That is, is he open to change, conscientious, social, cooperative, and even-tempered? Or is he resistant to change, irresponsible, less social, antagonistic, and impulsive?

·      Values and lifestyles. What are the father's goals regarding employment, parenting, and relationships with past, current, and/or future romantic partners? Is the way he lives his life-how he spends his time and his preferred activities-conducive to achieving his fatherhood-related goals?

·      Stress and coping. What is the father dealing with in his life-such as major life events, chronic or acute health conditions, mental health issues, substance abuse problems, legal problems, family challenges, and daily hassles with parenting, employment, and partner relationships? What strategies does he use to manage parenting stress, financial stress, and work stress?

·      Fatherhood-related knowledge. To what extent are fathers knowledgeable about child development, effective discipline strategies, and emotionally and cognitively supportive parenting? Do fathers understand the rights and responsibilities of noncustodial parents, how to establish paternity, and procedures for requesting adjustments to child-support and visitation orders? Do fathers know effective communication, conflict resolution, and effective co-parenting strategies? Do fathers understand how to find, secure, and retain stable employment?

·      Social and peer norms. What messages and expectations regarding responsible fathering behavior is the father exposed to? How many of his friends are fathers? How many are employed, are actively involved in their children's lives, and have positive relationships with their child's or children's mother(s) or their current partner?

·      Supports. To what extent does the father have access to, and make use of, social, emotional, financial, or instrumental support from a spouse or partner, friends, and extended family? What is the nature and quality of the support received? To what extent does he utilize community services? Has he ever used community one-stops and workforce development centers? Has he accessed food stamps or other public assistance, substance abuse treatment, mental health services, or other fatherhood/parenting programs in the community? Has he previously enrolled in a fatherhood or parenting program?

Some fathers may not perceive a need to change, or may not be ready or willing to make changes in their lives, rendering a fatherhood program virtually powerless to effect change-unless it is expressly designed to move fathers through the stages of change (Prochaska et al. 1992). Behavior change theories and public health research employing audience segmentation methods suggest that the following cognitions may be critical or even necessary psychosocial prerequisites of any behavior change:

·      Attitudes and beliefs. Does the father believe that he is not important to his children, or that his relationship with his child's mother has no bearing on his relationship with his child? Does he have confidence he will find stable employment, or has he given up hope? More generally, does he view the world as dangerous and unfair, or in a more positive light? Is he pessimistic or optimistic about his future?

·      Salience of current or expected outcomes. What does the father perceive to be the consequences of his current behavior as a parent, provider, worker, and partner? Does he perceive any of these consequences as undesirable? Does he believe he will better off if he changes his behavior? Are the expected outcomes of change important to him?

·      Responsibility for change. Does the father make excuses and blame others for his circumstances, or does he accept responsibility for his behavior and for the consequences of his behavior? To what does he attribute his successes and failures in life?

·      Self-efficacy and locus of control. Does the father believe that change is possible? Does he believe that he can make the necessary and desired changes in his life?

·      Willingness and motivation to change. Is the father willing to commit the time and effort to making the necessary and desired changes in his life? What is motivating his desire for change-achieving positive outcomes, or avoiding punishment and negative outcomes? Is he intrinsically or extrinsically motivated?

·      Deservingness. Does the father feel unworthy and undeserving of greater involvement in his child's life and achieving other fatherhood-related goals? At the other extreme, does he have a sense of entitlement, believing he shouldn't have to change to get what he perceives as rightfully his (for example, child visitation)?

·      Readiness to change. Is the father ready psychologically to change his behavior regarding involvement with his child, engagement in work, and fostering a positive relationship with the mother of his child and/or current spouse/partner?

·      Intentions to change. Does the father express an intention to make necessary and desirable changes? Is he committed to making changes? Has he devised a plan or taken any action steps toward change?

In sum, the same fatherhood program may have different impacts for different subgroups of men depending on how well the intervention identifies different constellations of service needs and targets services accordingly. In addition, differential impacts may occur for fathers who enter the program at different stages of readiness to change and with different constellations of psychosocial factors at both the individual and interpersonal levels that can influence their ability to engage in and benefit from the program. Therefore, in creating subgroups, it may be important to consider the number, nature, and severity of challenges reflective of service needs, as well as psychosocial factors reflective of the individual father's characteristics and social influences-both positive and negative-that may facilitate or serve as barriers to long-term change.

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