Measuring Child Well-Being in Evaluations of Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Programs

Measuring Child Well-Being in Evaluations of Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Programs

OPRE Report 2022-80
Published: Mar 31, 2022
Publisher: Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Updated August 2022
Associated Project

Fatherhood, Relationships, and Marriage – Illuminating the Next Generation of Research (FRAMING Research)

Time frame: 2018-2023

Prepared for:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families


Avery Hennigar

Katie Hunter

Key Findings

We describe findings from our review of 32 HMRE evaluations and 23 RF evaluations conducted since 2000 and draw upon those findings to make recommendations for evaluators interested in measuring child well-being in HMRE and RF evaluations. We find that:

  • Of the 32 HMRE evaluations we reviewed, 12 included a child well-being measure. Among HMRE evaluations that included a child well-being measure, evaluators typically measured children’s psychological health. Some evaluations also measured social interactions and economic circumstances. Very few measured cognitive skills or physical health. Evaluators primarily gathered information about children’s well-being through parent surveys.
  • Of the 23 RF evaluations we reviewed, 15 included a child well-being measure. These studies primarily examine children’s economic circumstances and typically focus on nonresident fathers’ financial support of their children. Some evaluations also measured children’s psychological health and a few measured children’s social interactions. None of the evaluations we reviewed measured children’s cognitive skills or physical health. As with the HMRE evaluations, evaluators primarily measured child well-being with surveys of parents (usually fathers, but sometimes fathers and co-parents).
  • We make three recommendations in the paper. First, we recommend that evaluators measure multiple aspects of child well-being, with a particular focus on children’s psychological health, their social interactions, and their economic circumstances. Second, evaluators should consider including measures of parenting and parent well-being in their studies to better understand the pathways between HMRE and RF content and child well-being outcomes. Third, evaluators should consider the cultural validity and cultural relevance of the child well-being measures they select.

Improving children’s well-being is a central motivation of healthy marriage and relationship education (HMRE) and responsible fatherhood (RF) programming. These programs offer relationship, parenting, and economic supports that have the long-term goal of improving children’s well-being by increasing the likelihood that children grow up in married and/or stable, two-parent families (in the case of HMRE programs) and that they grow up with engaged and supportive fathers (in the case of RF programs). Providing services designed to promote relationship and economic stability has the potential to improve co-parenting, parenting skills, financial outcomes, and parental well-being, which may in turn improve children’s well-being (Berger and McLanahan 2015; Shelton and Harold 2008; Sandstrom and Huerta 2013). Given the potential of these services to affect the well-being of children, it is important to examine child well-being when studying these programs.

This white paper provides an overview of the ways that evaluations of HMRE and RF programs have measured child well-being and offers recommendations for HMRE and RF evaluators who are interested in including child well-being measures in their studies. The paper includes a definition of child well-being and a discussion of how the content in HMRE and RF programs might affect it. We then summarize how recent evaluations of HMRE and RF programs have measured child well-being and provide recommendations for evaluators who wish to measure child well-being in future evaluations.

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