Just Beginning

Supporting young men in their role as fathers.

We know that a deep bond between a father and his child is important for the health and well-being of that child.

Research confirms children of involved fathers are more likely to have enhanced social skills, including higher self-esteem and more self-control, and increased problem solving abilities, including increased curiosity and greater tolerance for stress and frustration.

Father involvement also increases young children’s cognitive capabilities, demonstrated through higher verbal skills and higher scores on assessments of cognitive competence.[1]  Children who have regular contact with their fathers from birth to age 3 are less prone to bouts of aggression, and more able to regulate their emotions, even if their fathers aren’t living with them.[2]

Teen fathers who are emotionally attached to their child provide protective factors against risky behaviors of their child later in life.  These children are then more likely to develop good mental health, skills to cope with problems, and become productive members of society.[3]

Why work with incarcerated teen fathers?

  • Incarcerated teen parents and their children are an underserved, often ignored population, despite 25-30% of incarcerated teenagers in Dallas County are fathers.[4]
  • By providing young fathers the tools to connect emotionally with their child, Just Beginning is supporting a lifetime of positive mental health in their child, as well as strengthening the mental health of the father.
  • Incarceration can be a traumatic experience for both the children of inmates and the fathers themselves. Supporting adjudicated teen fathers as parents and providing them with tools to address their children’s needs builds protective factors for both the father and child.
  • Just Beginning gives young fathers confidence in their roles as a parent, especially when they aren’t currently living with or seeing their child every day. They build confidence by learning strategies to positively interact with their children, parenting skills, and fostering positive emotional bonds that will continue to benefit the child and their family long after the parent is released.
  • Parent-child visits allow hands-on learning and increases the opportunities for contact between the father and their child.
  • Children of incarcerated parents are highly vulnerable to maladjustment and more likely to be delinquent, use drugs, experience early pregnancy, drop out of school, and exhibit emotional problems compared to peers whose parents are not incarcerated.[5] Without intervention, a third of these children will exhibit signs of significant externalizing behaviors such as ADHD and/or aggression.[6]

Program Overview:

First3Years launched Just Beginning in Fall of 2015. Just Beginning addresses the parenting support needs of teen fathers within the juvenile justice system in Dallas by giving them tools to communicate with and build a positive relationship with their child.

Just Beginning consists of five core modules that are delivered through group classes using Sesame Street videos as guidance, and individualized parent-child play sessions.

Each class is followed with an individualized play session, which targets the interactional quality of emotional responsiveness by aiding in relationship, communication, and socio-emotional enhancing techniques.

The goal is for fathers and their children to connect and build a relationship. There are four basic skills taught during the course:

  1. Parental warmth and affection
  2. Building emotional attachment
  3. Following the child’s lead
  4. Talking to a baby in a positive and supportive manner


Research by the Youth Law Center (YLC) and Georgetown University showed the benefits of Just Beginning for the child and parent:

  • After one month of participation, fathers demonstrate improvements in parenting behavior that support positive development in their children.
  • Fathers view themselves as competent and responsible members of the community, and have increased contact with the community.
  • Children benefit from their parent’s increased parenting skills in emotional responsiveness (joint attention, emotional engagement, child involvement, turn-taking, parent involvement and following the lead), which is associated with the development of a positive, effective parent-child relationship.
  • There are positive changes in the quality of father–child interactions for children ages 3–36 months, an overall reduction in fathers’ misconduct, and increases in fathers’ acceptance and awareness of their influence on their children.[7]

Brief history:

The Youth Law Center (YLC) created Just Beginning in 2008 with the help of Georgetown University. Using a curriculum that a Georgetown researcher had developed for Sesame Street, the YLC started its mission to teach fathers parenting skills while in jail. Since launching, Just Beginning has een implemented in California, Ohio, and Connecticut and more than 150 youth have graduated. First3Years is the first organization to bring this program to Texas.

Pilot and planning made possible by grants from Gaston Episcopal Hospital FoundationThe Dallas Foundation, and Communities Foundation of Texas. Year 2 Funders include the Communities Foundation of Texas and the M.R. & Evelyn Hudson Foundation.

For more information, please contact Aaron Fields, Just Beginning Coordinator at afields@first3yearstx.org

[1] Pruett, K.D.  (2000). Fatherneed: Why father care is as essential as mother care for your child.
[2] Vogel, Bradley, Raikes, Boller, & Shears, (2006). Relation Between Father Connectedness and Child Outcomes
[3] Kate Fogarty and Garret D. Evans (2009)
[4] According to Dallas County Juvenile Detention Center (2016)
[5]  Barr, Brito, Zocca, Reina, Rodriguez, & Shauffer. (2011). “The Baby Elmo Program” Improving Teen Father-child Interactions within Juvenile Justice Facilities.”
[6] Barr et al. (2011)
[7] Richeda, B., Cowan, P., Cowan, C., Smith, K., Perkins, E., Simmons, S., Rodriguez, J., & Shauffer, C. (2015). Baby Elmo Leads Dads Back to the Nursery