Celebrating Fatherhood: Why a DC Home Visiting Program Focuses on Fathers

This past weekend, many of us celebrated Father’s Day, and though the relationships children have with their fathers are all very different, research over the years has shown that this relationship really matters. Children with positive father-child interactions are more likely to regularly attend school, not repeat a grade and achieve a diploma/GED[1]. Additionally, this relationship reduces engagement in risky, violent or antisocial behavior compared to children with negative or nonexistent relationships with their father[2].


In DC, home visiting programs with a focus on fatherhood are used to enhance this critical foundational relationship. Broadly, fatherhood programs are designed to address three key issue areas: the creation of healthy relationships, responsible parenting and establishment of economic stability. To learn more about how home visiting supports fathers, I reached out to the Father-Child Attachment program manager at Mary’s Center, Carlos Merchan. Informed by over eight years of experience, Carlos shared that this program “promotes positive father involvement and strengthens father/child relationships.” He clarified that the program is voluntary and any man acting as a father figure for a child between the ages of 0 and 5 can participate. Enrolled fathers receive home visits from male mentors until their child turns five years old.


Home-visits occur on an as-needed basis, ranging from several times a week to once a month, and are driven by a curriculum tailored to the family with goals that target the individual needs of the father. This includes video-taping father-child interactions and reviewing the recordings together. During this time of review, the home visitor and father engage in reflective conversations about this interaction and identify opportunities for improvement as well as areas of strength. Home visitors also spend time sharing with fathers about key developmental milestones to anticipate in their child’s life. Carlos shared that the program also focuses on making sure fathers meet their own personal goals such as writing a resume, practicing for a job interview, or completing paperwork for an ID/driver’s license. He reflected that, overall, “giving the father a sense of ownership in the program is really important because it leads to higher engagement.”


Despite the many success stories that Carlos has seen, he shared that fathers in the District, particularly men of color, are struggling. For example, due to language barriers or lack of documentation, Hispanic/Latino men enrolled in the program often lack access to important services. He explained that though there are agencies that help undocumented residents, many of them lack staff capacity to meet the demand, and as such are unable to take on additional clients. Carlos also spoke about the difficulties men face in finding employment that pays a living wage. He emphasized that despite some of the barriers they face, all of his clients are incredibly motivated and work hard to find jobs that will allow them to support their families.


While there are a number of empowering approaches that provide support to parents in the District, home visiting is one with a strong evidence base that meets the individual needs of families. Ensuring that children have strong relationships with their parents, fathers especially, is important for a child’s development. We are proud of and grateful for our partners like Carlos and his team at Mary’s Center who know the importance of and have a passion for this work.


If you are interested in learning more about this program, you can visit the Mary's Center website or contact Carlos Merchan: cmerchan@maryscenter.org, (202) 729-6825.






[1] Allen, S., & Daly, K. (2002). The effects of father involvement: A summary of the research evidence. Father Involvement Initiative. Retrieved from: http://www.ecdip.org/docs/pdf/IF%20Father%20Res%20Summary%20(KD).pdf.

[2] Stahlschmidt, M.J., Threlfall, J., Seay, K.D., Lewis, E.M., & Kohl, P.L. (2013). Recruiting fathers to parenting programs: Advice from dads and fatherhood program providers. Children and Youth Services Review, 35, 1734 – 1741.