Building Community Partnerships to Support Father Engagement Efforts

Early childhood programs partner with community organizations to support positive child and family outcomes. Community partners may include health and mental health providers, social service agencies, workforce development offices, banks and asset development programs, faith-based organizations, schools, libraries and museums, children’s theaters, and others.

“Often, programs do not have the internal capacity to go deeper to help parents. This is why we partner. There is and always will be another community entity that can enhance our services delivery, regardless of how strong it is.”—Fatherhood coordinator

Programs can build collaborations that benefit fathers in many ways. Staff can structure community partnerships by considering how to support:

  • Individual fathers. Fathers set individual goals and plan action steps as part of the family partnership process. A father may want to apply his skills in a new way and the likely partner is a workforce development program. Another may be looking for housing for his family and a program may refer him to a housing services agency.
  • All or many fathers in the program. Fathers want to be the best parents they can be. An Early Head Start program builds a partnership with a local hospital that is offering a parenting course for expectant fathers. Fathers enrolled in the program can participate in the course at no cost.
  • All or many fathers in the community. Many community agencies offer meaningful activities to engage men of different ages and backgrounds in the community. Fathers have different interests and needs. Programs can work with early childhood councils and other community initiatives to identify ways to engage men of different ages and backgrounds.

7 Tips for Building Community Partnerships that Enhance Father Engagement

Explore these tips to build community partnerships and support your program’s father engagement efforts.  

  • Use aggregated data from community assessments, family partnership agreements, program self-assessments, surveys, focus groups, and other information you learn from families to identify potential community partnerships to address fathers’ interests.
  • Plan regular opportunities, whether formal or informal, for staff and fathers to discuss fathers’ goals, interests, and needs.
  • Invite frequent and open communication with potential and current community partners that have fathers as their primary focus.
  • As in your program environment, foster a welcoming community. Fathers should see images and experience attitudes that honor the importance of their contributions.
  • Provide warm hand-offs as part of community referrals. Make a plan with fathers about how they will follow up.
  • Gather and use data to track how fathers are able to take advantage of partnerships to make progress toward their goals.
  • Speak with community partners and fathers about what services are helpful and effective. Consider ways to strengthen the referral process.

Focusing in close on two men in a group therapy settingPractice Scenario

Explore the scenario and reflect on opportunities to strengthen community partnerships in response to data from fathers.

Example: Joshua is the fatherhood coordinator for a Head Start program. Over the years, employment opportunities have been stable in the community. However, a local textile plant has just closed down. A number of parents have lost their jobs.

Joshua runs a biweekly fathers’ group. Fathers have expressed concerns related to the plant’s closing: “How will I pay the bills and the rent? What if I have to move to find a new job? Should I go back to school? I am grouchy with my wife and kids because I’m so worried.”

Joshua meets with Sabrina, the program director, and other managers. They discuss how the program can best respond to the families.

Sabrina: We’ve been lucky that most of our parents have been working or in school. We’ve only made referrals on a case-by-case basis. Staff at the county have always been helpful. Let’s take a look at our community assessment.

Joshua: I think the employment agency could be a great resource. Why don’t we start a conversation with them to explore some options? Maybe they could help us with a strengths and needs assessment of job skills and then plan training opportunities, perhaps preparing for job interviews or writing resumes. Do any of the staff or Policy Council members have a relationship with staff at the agency?

Programs and community partners can use a Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) to spell out the goals, roles, and responsibilities, timelines, and anticipated outcomes for fathers. Program staff and leaders should review and update the MOU with input from staff, parents, including fathers, and the partners.

Sabrina: I see what you mean. We do have an MOU with our community college. I wonder if they have certification programs that might be of interest to our families. 

Joshua: That might be worth exploring. Several of our fathers are anxious and worried. They wonder how they will support their families and be the kind of providers they want to be.

Sabrina: Let’s see what our mental health consultant advises. She may have some ideas about how we can help them cope with stress. We’ll also want to make sure that we ask the family support staff to talk with families about how the stress is affecting family life. At our last management meeting, the education team mentioned that there is an increase in children’s classroom behavior that is challenging for adults. We are going to strengthen our current social and emotional curriculum with professional development for teachers. The new curriculum will emphasize how to use positive guidance techniques in the classroom. We believe this will strengthen children’s self-regulation skills.

Joshua: It is encouraging that we can take this kind of a coordinated approach among all the services in our program. I really feel we’re in this together, and that helps relieve my stress!


  • What data do you rely on to identify fathers’ interests and available resources in the community?  How do your current community partnerships support fathers’ strengths, interests, and needs?
  • What community partnerships does your program have in place to support fathers? Are MOUs in place? What is the process for reviewing and updating current community partnerships?
  • What steps does your program take to create new partnerships?
  • How do you inform program staff about the current partnerships and how to access them to support fathers and families? Do staff and families contribute to your community resource guide?
  • How do fathers and families provide input about partnerships that are working well or may need to be enhanced?
  • How do you work with community partners to evaluate services for fathers?

Additional Resources

For Staff

For Educators