Meeting the Challenge:
What The Federal Government Can Do To Support Responsible Fatherhood Efforts

Chapter 2
Lessons from the Field:
What Have We Learned About Developing Programs For Fathers

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Interest in fatherhood is not new, although the current media attention is unprecedented. In the very first national preschool program, Head Start, both mothers and fathers were a focus of the programs mission to increase the parenting and leadership skills of low-income parents.

Head Start (1967)

There are few situations in the life of a child more exciting and wonderful than those when a child can say with pride to his friends, "That's my Daddy," or "That's my Mommy." Head Start Rainbow Series #6, Parents are Needed, Office of Economic Opportunity, 1967, Washington, D.C.

Head Start (1996)

Each Head Start Program should reflect this [parent involvement] vision through efforts to carry out the following .....Programs [should] make special efforts to reach out to and include fathers, supportive male family members, and male caregivers in their parent involvement activities, especially those activities involving the development of their children.  A Head Start Handbook of the Parent Involvement Vision and Strategies, March, 1996.

Information on current Head Start efforts to involve fathers can be obtained from the Head Start Publications Management Center at

In addition to Head Start, other programs that emphasize father involvement have been developed and implemented under various public and private funding arrangements. While Head Start efforts were targeted to parents of poor children, other efforts responding to growing concerns about out-of-wedlock teen childbearing, began to look at the possibility of programs designed for young fathers or to prevent premature fatherhood. In the early 1980s Bank Street College initiated the Teen Fatherhood Collaboration, funding eight community-based programs to address the parenting and employment needs of young fathers, and the Urban League funded Adolescent Male Responsibility projects focusing on preventing pregnancies and promoting responsible parenting. In the early 1990s two separate demonstration efforts were launched, the Young Unwed Fathers Project developed by Public/Private Ventures and Parent's Fair Share developed by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation. Both of these demonstrations were public-private partnerships between government agencies, foundations, and community-based organizations. By the late 1990s, Federal agencies, through their partners in States and communities were trying to address one or more of the challenges fathers face in trying to become better fathers. Some examples of these efforts are:

The exciting result of these expanded efforts is to see the diversity of activities that can be undertaken to support responsible fatherhood efforts and to identify more clearly the strengths and challenges faced by programs serving fathers.

Information on Responsible Fatherhood Efforts:

Connecting Low-Income Fathers and Families: A Guide to Practical Policies, by Dana Reichart with contributions from Daniel Ash, Jenna Davis, and Matt O'Connor, National Conference of State Legislatures. The report is available from NCSL, 1560 Broadway, Suite 700, Denver Co 80202, (303)830-2200 and at

Getting Men Involved: Strategies for Early Childhood Programs, by James Levine, Dennis Murphy and Sherrill Watson, Scholastic, Inc., NY, NY, 1993. See

New Expectations: Community Strategies for Responsible Fatherhood, by James Levine and Edward Pitt, Families and Work Institute, NY, NY, 1995. See

Restoring Fathers to Families and Communities: Six Steps for Policy Makers, by Kathleen Sylvester and Kathy Rich, Social Policy Action Network. The report is available at: funded and from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 701 St. Paul St, Baltimore, MD 21202. Phone: (410)-547-6600.

Serving Noncustodial Parents: A Descriptive Study of Welfare-to-Work Programs, by Karin Martinson, John Trutko, and Debra Strong, The Urban Institute under contract with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, DHHS, Washington DC, 2000. See and

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Different Needs — Different Programs:
There Is No One Way to Engage Fathers

One of the important lessons from the field is that there is no one model for responsible fatherhood programs and initiatives. Activities to encourage and support responsible fatherhood efforts are emerging out of many professional disciplines and in many different program contexts. While there is some consensus as to what constitutes responsible fatherhood behaviors, the context and content of service delivery to facilitate change is still exploratory and experimental.(1) This section of the guidance provides information and examples of the kinds of fatherhood programs that are emerging in the field. These examples clearly show that no one program design, no one sponsoring agency, no one funding source has the only answer to how to promote fatherhood activities.(2)

Parenting Based Models

Education Based Models

Employment Based Models

Criminal Justice Models

Improving Family Relationships Models

Violence Prevention Models

Children's Health Based Models

Adult Health Based Models

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Beginning at the Beginning: Conducting a Fatherhood Community Needs Assessment

Two short and readable guides to helping communities think through the planning of a fatherhood program are Fathers Count: A Manual for Developing Fatherhood Programs and Fathers Matter: What Community Foundations Can Do. Fathers Count was written by Susan Zimmerman for the Center for Families and Children based on the development of the Center's Fathers and Families Together program. Copies of the manual can be obtain from Fathers and Families Together/ CFC, 1117 East 105th Street, Cleveland, Ohio, 44113, (216) 415-2359. Fathers Matter was written by James Levine, Edward Pitt, and Rebecca Hornbeck for the Coalition of Community Foundations for Youth. The monograph discusses how communities and foundations can work together to develop fatherhood programs. Copies can be obtained from CCFY, P.O. Box 489, Excelsior Springs, MO 64024-0489, Toll Free: (800)292-6149

Many fatherhood programs want to be a comprehensive as possible, because many fathers need help with more than one aspect of their personal or family life. Improving parenting skills may be important but if a parent does not have a job, he might find it difficult to focus on how to be a more caring and nurturing parent. This identified need for a comprehensive approach often creates a tension between the "vision" of serving the whole father and the "funding" which may be limited to a specific service or outcome. An important part of a community needs assessment is to identify partners who have a mandate to deliver the services needed by the program. With partners, program developers can often develop a more comprehensive approach to meeting fathers needs. Chapter three of this report, Finding Partners: The Key to Building Strong Programs discusses the partnership process.

An example of a very thorough needs assessment is the one undertaken by the Johns Hopkins University Center for American Indian Health as part of its fatherhood program development effort. The Center managed a home-visitation program for teen mothers on Navajo and White Mountain Apache Reservations. In their work with the young mothers, staff began hearing from the mothers, parents, and others that there needed to be a program for young fathers as well. The Center, with a planning grant from the C.S. Mott and Ford Foundations, conducted a series of round tables with stakeholders in each of the proposed demonstration communities. Separate meetings were held with:

The meetings were conducted by the Centers local field coordinators and staff, who asked participants about the problems fathers faced in teen formed families, the resources and services available in the community to help the fathers and their families, and the components round table participants felt should be included in a fathers' project in their community. These conversations lead to the design of a program that reflected the thinking across all the community stakeholders. The result of this comprehensive information gathering was a program that addressed the needs expressed by the young fathers and gained the support of the community leaders and service providers. The resulting program design recognized the need for immediate help to the fathers to increase parenting skills, support for young fathers parenting role from their families and communities, and access to support services available in the community. The assessment also identified the need for a long range plan to increase economic opportunities in reservation communities in order to retain young men in the community and promote family stability.

The needs assessment report, Summary of the Roundtable Meetings, the video Love What You Make, and a description of the Fathers Project can be obtained by writing or calling the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indians, 621 N. Washington Street, Baltimore MD, 21205, telephone (410)955-6931.

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The Need for a Whole Family Approach

There is agreement among many fatherhood program development experts that it is crucial that mothers' perspectives be involved in the planning of programs for fathers and that mothers be given consideration in the development of service delivery models. (3) One concern in fatherhood program development has been not to replicate the single gender focus of many of the current social service programs serving mothers and children. Programs that serve only fathers and their children distort the family perspective as much as programs that serve only mothers and their children. Research finds that the quality of the mother-father relationship is one factor that strongly affects a father's willingness and ability to be involved with his children. (4) If a mother does not want a father, especially a nonresident father, involved, it would be difficult for a program to increase a father's ability to spend more time with his children. Even court action to increase parenting time can be easily undermined. New research from the Fragile Family and Child Well-Being Study which indicates that many parents have a positive relationship at the time of the baby's birth and that both mothers and fathers want to be actively involved in their child's life (5) and research from the Parent's Fair Share(6) and other studies that show disagreements among parents may become more intractable over time(7), have lead to an interest in working with the whole family from the earliest intervention date possible. The Fragile Family Demonstrations, a 10 site public/private collaboration between the foundation community and the Office of Child Support Enforcement/ACF/HHS and with supplemental funding from other public funds, such as the Department of Labor's Welfare-To-Work grants and HUD's Public and Indian Housing Drug Elimination program, have taken the approach that both parents need to be seen a program clients. Similarily, the Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Revitalization, a multisite Welfare-to-Work grantee uses an approach that first works with mothers and then extends services to the fathers as well.

Another important reason for working with mothers as part of responsible fatherhood efforts is the issue of family violence. Not all families are affected by domestic violence, but enough families are that the issue is taken very seriously by providers of services to mothers and fathers. The Welfare-to-Work and Child Support Amendments of 1999 (Title VIII of H.R. 3424) require that Welfare-to-Work grantees serving noncustodial parents consult with domestic violence providers in the planning and implementation of their programs and that custodial parents could not be required to "cooperate" with the child support agency as a condition of eligibility for either parent. Additionally, experts in the field of domestic violence have identified the lack of services for batterers as one of the areas improvement is needed in order to strengthen violence prevention efforts. (8) Responsible fatherhood program providers are also struggling with the issue. Some projects are developing curriculum to address the issue of family violence and some programs, such as the Resource Center for Fathers and Families in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area, have developed crisis hotlines for fathers.

Domestic violence resources for responsible fatherhood programs include:

Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community
Oliver J. Williams, Executive Director, Phone:(612)624-9217,

The National Latino Fatherhood and Family Institute
Jerry Tello, Director, Phone:(323)728-7770,

The Non-Violence Alliance/Domestic Violence Intervention Training Institute
David Mandel, Phone: (860)347-8220,

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The Importance of Outreach and Recruitment

Two recent reports released by the Department of Health and Human Services, OCSE Responsible Fatherhood Programs: Early Implementation Lessons and Serving Noncustodial Parents: A Descriptive Study of Welfare-To-Work Programs, identify the importance and difficulty of the recruitment issues for some types of responsible fatherhood efforts.(9)

Programs that serve low-income fathers, many of whom are not currently living with their children, have found that these fathers are not frequent users of any type of social service programs and respond cautiously to overtures of promised help. Many programs have had to use multiple strategies to become known and accepted in the communities that they served. Because fathers were often not in other social service systems, even developing referral networks proved a challenge. Some programs used the child support enforcement system and the criminal justice system to identify fathers who needed assistance because they were behind in making child support payments or needed help making a success transition from prison to family and community. Other programs relied on self-referrals through word of mouth, street and door-to-door recruitment, and the media to establish a client base. Most programs used some combination of both mandatory and voluntary referrals. Projects also worked with mothers to identify fathers in need of employment, parenting and legal assistance. Often outreach and recruitment strategies were also constrained by the funding sources being used by the agency. For example, initially Welfare-to-Work grantees had difficulty finding fathers who met the eligibility requirements. Recruitment potential improved when the legislation was amended broadening the eligibility criteria. Other examples are programs funded with substance abuse or child welfare dollars that may have to limit services to those fathers with substance abuse problems or who are at risk for child maltreatment. Responsible fatherhood program providers have identified the importance of being able to offer something to every father that comes to the program, even if it is a referral to another community program. Turning fathers away makes credibility with the target population hard to build and hard to maintain.

Other reports on developing programs for fathers and increasing father participation in childrens' and families' activities have identified the need for a father-friendly environment, which expects and welcomes father involvement. In the Department of Education/Department of Health and Human services report, Call to Commitment: Fathers' Involvement in Children's Learning, the following assessment was made:

Some schools, preschools and childcare programs don't have father friendly environments and are not organized to work with families. Also, when parents are invited into the schools or centers, fathers are less likely, on average, to respond to these invitations for involvement. Why? Part of the reason is that parents often assume that such invitations are for mothers only.(10)

Likewise, working with nonresident fathers provides even greater challenges since information and invitations are often not provided to the nonresident parent by the educators or care providers of his children. In a related Department of Health and Human Services publication, Involving Non-Resident Fathers in Children's Learning, readers were asked to consider the potential of small procedural changes that would send report card to both custodial and noncustodial parents as a way of keeping nonresident fathers engaged in their children's education. That same report identifies a State law change made in Massachusetts that standardized the process for public elementary and secondary schools to give copies of school records to parents that did not have physical custody of their children.(11)

A Call to Commitment: Fathers Involvement in Children's Learning and Involving Non-Resident Fathers in Children's Learning were developed as part of the Fathers Matter collaboration between the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Education's Partnership for Family Involvement in Education, an effort to increase fathers' involvement in children's learning. Also available are materials from the Fathers Matter Teleconference hosted by Secretaries Riley and Shalala in October of 1999 and the CDROM Fathers' Involvement in Children's Learning: Tool Kit. The CD-ROM includes the following sections: tools for involving fathers, working with Hispanic/Latino fathers and families, and research on how fathers matter. To obtain these materials contact: and

A number of national fatherhood and family organizations have recognized the need to help many different types of programs take stock of their attitudes towards fathers and the ways in which they try to engage fathers in their children's lives. Many of these organization provide information or technical assistance in how to assess a father-friendly environment. Important components of these assessments include: attitudes of staff; inclusiveness of language and environment; types of activities available for fathers; scheduling of activities for non-work hours; media and communications; and presence of male staff and volunteers. For more information on father-friendly assessments contact the following organizations listed in Chapter Five: Families and Work Institute/Fatherhood Project; National Center for Strategic Nonprofit Planning and Community Leadership (NPCL); National Fatherhood Initiative; National Head Start Association; and National Practitioners Network for Fathers and Families.

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Management Information and Evaluation

In 1995 the Department of Health and Human Services and the Ford Foundation entered into a collaboration to assess the evaluability of responsible fatherhood programs. Because responsible fatherhood programs were diverse and funded from many different sources of public and private funds, information gathering, reporting, and evaluation activities had been mostly site specific or focused on a few highly developed demonstration projects. There had not been any assessment of the general state of program infrastructure and because there had been no one Federal agency with responsibility for funding fatherhood programs, no sense of the overall readiness of the field for in-depth evaluation activities. The report of that assessment indicated that formal impact evaluation activities were likely to be premature because most programs did not have a systematic way of capturing data about clients, services and outcomes, were serving only a small number of clients at anyone time, and were still refining recruiting methods and program services.

For more information about the Responsible Fatherhood Management Information System (RFMIS), see Toolkit for Fatherhood at The report, An Evaluability Assessment of Responsible Fatherhood Programs by Burt Barnow of Johns Hopkins University and David Stapleton of The Lewin Group, with the assistance of Gina Livermore, Jeffery Johnson, and John Trutko is available in WordPerfect format as a self-extracting, compressed file, at

As a follow-up to the finding that fatherhood programs needed help in developing systematic data collection that could be used to manage program activities and build a foundation for evaluation activities, HHS developed a new tool to help fatherhood programs manage and assess their programs. The Responsible Fatherhood Management Information System (RFMIS) can help programs maintain information on the services needed and delivered to fathers in their programs. The system allows programs to track the progress of individual fathers and to aggregate data on program participants for reporting purposes. The RFMIS is available at no charge as a paper and pencil tracking system or as an electronic database that can be downloaded into any computer system that uses Microsoft Access. Also under development is a data tool for tracking client outcomes. The RFMIS is currently being used by 15 HHS fatherhood project sites and in eight fatherhood projects funded by the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina. Technical Assistance on the use of the RFMIS is being provided at a variety of conference focusing on services for fathers, most recently at the Fathers Behind Bars and on the Streets Conference in Durham, North Carolina co-sponsored by the National Practitioners Network for Fathers and Families and the Family Corrections Network and the Welfare-to-Work Beyond 2000 National Conference, Phoenix Arizona, sponsored by the Employment and Training Administration, Department of Labor.

Because of small size and diverse program models, evaluations of responsible fatherhood programs to date have been limited. Much of the support for work related to father involvement is based on research which indicates that father absence is detrimental to child and family well-being (when there is no violence or high levels of conflict in the relationship) and that good fathering has a positive impact on children, separate and apart from that of good mothering. While most researchers would agree that more research is needed to understand how and why fathers have both positive and negative impacts on their childrens' lives and the meaning of those impacts(12), even less is known about the effectiveness of program strategies in increasing and strengthening fathers involvement in their children's lives. There is theoretical support for the assumption that working with fathers can affect their positive involvement with their children. In the report, Responsible Fathering: An Overview and Conceptual Framework prepared for the Department of Health and Human Services and subsequently published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family, Doherty, Kouneski and Erickson conclude:

....that fathering is uniquely sensitive to contextual influences, both interpersonal and environmental... A range of influences including mothers' expectations and behaviors, the quality of the coparental relationship, economic factors, institutional practices, and employment opportunities all have potentially powerful effects on fathering....When these influences are not supportive of the father-child bond, a man may need high identification with the father role, strong commitment, and good parenting skills to remain a responsible father to his children, especially if he does not live with them. An encouraging implication of this systemic, contextual analysis is that there are many potential pathways to enhancing the quality of father-child relations. Fathering can potentially be enhanced through programs that help fathers relate to their coparent, that foster employment and economic opportunities if needed, that change institutional expectations and practices to better support fathers, and that encourage personal and economic involvement with their children.(13)

There are several major evaluations of Federally funded responsible fatherhood programs underway. Perhaps the most well known is the evaluation of Parents' Fair Share (PFS), a demonstration program authorized by the Congress in the Family Support Act of 1988. Seeking to increase earnings and income of low-income men who owed child support to currrent or former welfare recipients, PFS provided employment and training services to men referred by the courts or child support agencies because they were behind in their child support payment. Also prominent among services offered were the "peer support" groups for the fathers enrolled in the program. These peer support groups became the vehicle by which many men increased their parenting skills and external social support network. PFS, which was designed as an impact evaluation with treatment and control groups, has a modest positive effect on the payment of child support but no effect on increasing the earnings and income of the treatment group. However, the implementation findings, that is, how programs for low-income fathers operate within the child support system, the court system, the social service systems, the criminal justice system and the employment and training systems, have become the basis for exploring new ways to develop programs for low-income fathers. Information on the availability of PFS reports appears in the box below.

Also currently in the field are several new studies, looking both at implementation and outcomes for fathers, and when available, children. The Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project has a Fathers Studies component that is looking at the role of fathers in child development and the Early Head Start Program. The Office of Child Support Enforcement Responsible Fatherhood Demonstration Projects are being evaluated to determine what effect they have had on client fathers employment, contact with children, and child support payments. Additionally the National Welfare-To-Work Evaluation has programs serving noncustodial parents among its evaluation sites. Results from these and other evaluations of fatherhood programs will provide additional information on program implementation and outcomes in the near future.

Evaluation Reports on Responsible Fatherhood Programs:

THE PARENTS FAIR SHARE DEMONSTRATION: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation:

Parenting and Providing: The Impact of Parents' Fair Share on Parental Involvement, November 2000.

Working and Earning: The Impact of Parents' Fair Share on Low Income Fathers' Employment, November 2000.

Building Opportunities, Enforcing Obligations: Implementation and Interim Impacts of Parents' Fair Share,December 1998.

Working with Low-Income Cases: Lessons for the Child Support Enforcement System from Parents' Fair Share. May 1998.

See or


Young Unwed Fathers, Report from the Field, 1994 by Mary Achatz and Crystal A. MacAllum , Public Private Ventures, One Commerce Square, 2005 Market Street, Suite 900, Philadelphia , PA 19103, (215)557-4400

RESPONSIBLE FATHERHOOD DEMONSTRATIONS: Office of Child Support Enforcement/Administration for Children and Families/HHS

Responsible Fatherhood Demonstrations: Early Implementation Lessons, June 2000, by Jessica Pearson, David Price, Nancy Thoennes, and Jane Venohr . Report available (PDF file) and

EARLY HEAD START RESEARCH AND EVALUATION PROJECT/FATHERS STUDIES: Administration on Children, Youth and Families/Administration for Children and Families/HHS.

A listing of papers, monographs and presentations based on preliminary data from the Fathers Studies of the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project (EHSREP) can be found at: Additional information on the EHSREP can be found at

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1.  Doherty, William, Edward Kouneski, and Martha Farrell Erickson, (1996) Responsible Fathering: An Overview and Conceptual Framework, Washington, D.C.: Department of Health and Human Service.

2.  In the development of this guidance, Federal agencies were asked to identify fatherhood projects that are supported with Federal funds. Promotion of fatherhood could be a primary or instrumental aspect of the project. The use of the term "model" in this section does not mean that the project has been tested or evaluated or that its performance has been found to be exemplary. Projects are listed here to give the reader a sense of the variety of fatherhood programs that are currently being funded.

3.  Levine, James, Dennis Murphy and Sherrill Watson, (1993) Getting Men Involved: Strategies for Early Childhood Programs, Scholastic, Inc., NY, NY; Levine, James and Edward Pitt, (1995) New Expectations: Community Strategies for Responsible Fatherhood, Families and Work Institute, NY, NY. To obtain reports see Doherty, William, Edward Kounski, and Martha F. Erickson (1996) Responsible Fathering: An Overview and Conceptual Framework, prepared by the Lewin Group under contract with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation/HHS , Washington, D.C. Available as HHS report at and in a revised version from the Journal of Marriage and the Family 60 (May 1998):277-292.

4.  Doherty, William, Edward Kounski, and Martha F. Erickson (1996) Responsible Fathering: An Overview and Conceptual Framework, prepared by the Lewin Group under contract with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation/HHS , Washington, D.C. Available as HHS report at and in a revised version from the Journal of Marriage and the Family 60 (May 1998):277-292.

5.  Research briefs and reports from the Fragile Family and Child Well-Being Study, see Dispelling Myths About Unmarried Fathers, Fragile Family Research Brief #1, May 2000 and Johnson, Waldo, 2000, The Determinants of Parental Involvement Among Unwed Fathers, Working Paper 00-19-FF. Reports also available at:

6.  Knox, Virginia and Cindy Redeross, (2000), Parenting and Providing: The Impact of Parents' Fair Share on Parental Involvement, Manpower Research Corporation, New York. See or

7.  Pearson, Jessica and Nancy Thoennes, Programs to Increase Fathers Access to Their Children, in Garfinkel, Irwin, (eds), (1998) Fathers Under Fire: The Revolution in Child Support Enforcement , Russell Sage Foundation, New York.

8.  Effective Intervention in Domestic Violence & Child Maltreatment Cases, Guidelines for Policy and Practice, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, PO Box, 8970, Reno, Nevada, (775)784-6012.

9.  Pearson, Jessica, David Price, Nancy Thoennes, and Jane Venohr, (2000), Responsible Fatherhood Demonstrations: Early Implementation Lessons, Policy Studies Inc., under contract to the Office of Planning and Evaluation and the Office of Child Support Enforcement, HHS, Denver, and Martinson, Karin, John Trutko, and Debra Strong, (2000) Serving Noncustodial Parents: A Descriptive Study of Welfare-to-Work Programs, The Urban Institute under contract with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, HHS, Washington DC. Reports available at:

10.  A Call to Commitment: Fathers Involvement in Children's Learning, (2000) National Center for Fathering under contract with the Department of Education, Washington D.C. Available at

11.  Involving Non-Resident Fathers in Children's Learning, (2000) Center for Fathering under contract with the Office of Child Support Enforcement, ACF/HHS, Washington, D.C. Available at http: or from the National Child Support Enforcement Reference Center at (202) 401-9383 or

12.  Nurturing Fatherhood: Improving Data and Reseach on Male Fertility, Family Formation and Fatherhood, Washington, D.C: Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 1998 (Report available at: See also Ray, Aisha, Q&A, in Father Care, Applied Research in Child Development #2, Fall 2000 from the Herr Research Center, Erikson Institute, 420 North Wabash Ave, Chicago IL, 60611-5627, phone: (312) 755-2250.

13.  Doherty, William, Edward Kounski, and Martha F. Erickson (1996) Responsible Fathering: An Overview and Conceptual Framework, prepared by the Lewin Group under contract with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation/HHS , Washington, D.C. Available as HHS report at and in a revised version from the Journal of Marriage and the Family 60 (May 1998): 277-292.

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Last updated: 1/19/01