Methods: The current study is part of a multiyear randomized controlled trial examining the effectiveness of two fatherhood programs conducted in a metropolitan area in a Midwest state. Eligible fathers had at least one child ≤16 years old and were currently unemployed or underemployed. The Family Formation program (6 weeks, 240 hours) focused on economic stability, parenting, and healthy relationships, while the Economic Stability program (4 weeks, 80 hours) focused only on economic stability (job readiness and employment skills). Demographic data were collected from fathers at baseline (n=691), and reasons for dropping out of the programs were collected via two open-ended questions at the 3-month follow-up survey. Adopting both quantitative and qualitative methods, we compared baseline characteristics of 260 program completers (i.e., fathers attending ≥ 75% sessions) to 431 non-completers (i.e., fathers attending < 75% sessions) and analyzed fathers’ responses (n=181) to two open-ended questions asking about barriers to completing the program. Bivariate analysis and thematic analysis were conducted with Stata and Dedoose, respectively.
Results: In total, almost all fathers participating in this study were under-represented minorities (93% Black, 5% other/mixed race). Analysis that compared noncompleters to completers showed that noncompleters were younger (32.8 vs. 34.6 years, p<.05) with children showing fewer aggressive behaviors (mean standardized scores: -0.09 vs. 0.16, p<.05). Also, a greater proportion of fathers in the noncompleter group were not ordered to pay child support by a court (61% vs 53%, p<.05). Analysis of the 181 short responses revealed the three biggest barriers of program completion: Job-related time conflict (51%, e.g., father starting a new job), logistic issues (33%, e.g., childcare arrangement, transportation), and challenging life events (23%, e.g., health issues, “Having too much going on”). Other barriers included: Organizational rules and staff (17%, e.g., “Staff felt cold, focusing on paperwork,” failing the mandatory drug test) and fit misaligned with needs (15%, e.g., “It did not suit what I was looking for”).
Conclusions: This study identified factors and perceived barriers that lead to dropping out of fatherhood programs. The findings suggested the importance of enhancing fathers’ motivation for program participation, particularly for fathers with certain characteristics (e.g., fathers who were not ordered to pay child support). Additionally, the study findings imply a need for flexible program design that can fit fathers’ schedule once they secure a job. Findings also suggest a need for customized, individual approach to fatherhood programs including strengthening fathers’ skills in addressing the ongoing life stress.