Head Start and Nonresident Fathers' Involvement with Children

Alexandra Haralampoudis, Lenna Nepomnyaschy, Louis Donnelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: This study explores the associations of children's Head Start participation with the involvement and material contributions of their nonresident fathers. Background: Head Start, which provides comprehensive child care services to over 1 million low-income children annually, aims to enhance relationships and increase parental involvement among participating families. Prior studies indicate that Head Start increases engagement among mothers of participating children; however, little is known about its effects on father involvement, particularly that of nonresident fathers. Method: Analyses are based on longitudinal data from the first five waves of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study and focus on children with nonresident biological fathers at years 5 (N = 1,464) and 9 (N = 1,173). Associations are estimated between children's Head Start participation prior to kindergarten entry (at Age 5) and nonresident fathers' material contributions and social involvement at years 5 and 9, controlling for a rich set of individual, family, and contextual factors, including fathers' involvement prior to Head Start participation. Results: Results indicated that Head Start participation was associated with increased levels of nonresident fathers' contact and engagement with children, and more frequent provision of in-kind support, but not more formal or informal cash child support. These associations appeared to operate through improving the strength and quality of coparenting and parents' relationships. Conclusion: Head Start may be an effective intervention for increasing nonresident fathers' involvement with children, which is another pathway through which Head Start can reduce socioeconomic inequalities and improve well-being among children in low-income families.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)699-716
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Marriage and Family
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


  • Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study
  • Head Start
  • child support
  • father–child relations
  • nonresidential parents


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