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The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children
Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Children's Bureau Rosenberg, Jeffrey., Wilcox, W. Bradford.|
|Year Published: 2006|
8. Fatherhood Programs
Nationally and locally, there are numerous fatherhood programs that strive to meet the various needs of the many different fathers and families. These programs fill the gaps left by social service agencies, which have limited funding, suffer from case overloads, and are unable to offer activities beyond the scope of their responsibilities. There is no one fatherhood program model—some are informal support groups started locally and that meet sporadically, some address the special issues that affect fathers parenting special needs or adopted children, others are structured to work with fathers holistically to address stressors or behaviors that can affect their abilities to support their children emotionally and financially (such as unemployment, noncustodial, or long-distance dads), and still others work with incarcerated fathers or those involved in family violence. Some are small, local activities while others collaborate with larger social service agencies.
The goal of Section II is to provide examples and contact information for communities, faith-based organizations, agencies, or groups of individuals to utilize should they wish to start their own groups. Child welfare agencies can also discover ways to make their agencies more father-friendly. Additionally, to help guide referrals for fathers, these resources provide a means for caseworkers to determine how father-friendly other service providers are.
8.1 Starting a Fatherhood Group
While there are many different types of fatherhood groups serving many different kinds of fathers, several core themes emerged from talking with the leaders. The following are lessons learned in starting a program or involving fathers in an existing program:
- Involve fathers whenever a program or agency involves the mother (except in cases of safety issues). The exclusion of fathers, even when they wanted to be involved, was repeatedly mentioned throughout discussions with various program directors. One father working with a CPS worker doing an investigation said the worker addressed questions only to the mother and virtually ignored the father.
- Have men lead the fatherhood programs. Over and over again, men expressed that a father-led, fathers-only group gives them the safety and ability to open up about their doubts, fears, and other emotions that would not be possible in a co-ed group.
- Include the mothers in complementary group activities. While the groups expressed the previous point, the importance of a good relationship with the child's mother was also emphasized. Interaction and involvement with the mother always were encouraged in other group activities.
- Make the programs culturally relevant. As one program head described it, "mainstream" programs do not work for every cultural group, and, in order to be effective, it is important to recognize the differences that various cultures, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic groups face. Appendix D, Cultural Competence Self-assessment Questionnaire, provides program staff with a tool to assess the cultural competency of both the program and staff.
- Let the fathers help determine the type of activities. While this does not work with all groups or group settings, many groups let their various branches determine what the needs of the fathers in their area are. Under the same group umbrella, some branches only sponsor fathers' nights out while others have a year-long curriculum teaching fathering and parenting skills, but they let the fathers decide what they needed.
Exhibit 8-1 illustrates what various other groups have found helpful in starting a fatherhood program or group.
Lessons Learned: Core Ideas for Building Successful Father-friendly Programs106
For further suggestions, read Circles of Care and Understanding by James May or visit the Fathers Network Web page at http://www.fathersnetwork.org.
8.2 Promoting Responsible Fatherhood
One recent study researched and analyzed 300 community-based initiatives, and it offers the following strategic objectives as a framework for programs promoting responsible fatherhood:
- Prevent. Prevent men from having children before they are ready for the financial and emotional responsibilities of fatherhood.
- Prepare. Prepare men for the legal, financial, and emotional responsibilities of fatherhood.
- Establish. Promote paternity establishment at childbirth so that every father and child has, at a minimum, a legal connection.
- Involve. Reach out to men who are fathers, whether married or not, to foster their emotional connection to and financial support of their children.
- Support. Actively support fathers in the variety of their roles and in their connection with their children, regardless of their legal and financial status (married, unmarried, employed, and unemployed).105
Several agencies are working with community-based groups to address the issues confronting noncustodial fathers. They recognize that many noncustodial fathers are responsible parents who want to be actively involved in the lives of their children. However, substantial barriers may exist that prevent or inhibit a father's involvement with his children. The National Center on Fathers and Families identified the following seven core findings about fathers based on the experiences of the frontline people who work with them:
- Fathers care—even if caring is not always shown in conventional ways.
- The presence of fathers matters—in terms of economic well-being, social support, and child development.
- Joblessness is a major impediment to family formation and father involvement.
- Existing approaches to public benefits, child support enforcement, and paternity establishment operate to create obstacles and disincentives to father involvement. The disincentives are sufficiently compelling to have prompted the emergence of a phenomenon dubbed "underground fathers"—men who are involved in the lives of their children, but refuse to participate as fathers in formal systems.
- A growing number of young, unwed fathers and mothers need additional support to develop the vital skills to share responsibility for parenting.
- The transition from biological father to committed parent has significant developmental implications for young fathers.
- The behaviors of young parents, both fathers and mothers, are significantly influenced by intergenerational beliefs and practices within families of origin.107
These findings offer a context for understanding the challenges faced by many young and adult men who want to become responsible fathers as well as the programs designed to help them achieve that goal.108
8.3 Developing Father-friendly Agencies and Programs
Establishing fatherhood initiatives in the communities is not enough. It also is important for agencies and programs to assess if they provide a father-friendly environment. Important components include:
- The attitudes of staff;
- The inclusiveness of language and environment;
- The types of activities available for fathers;
- The scheduling of activities for nonwork hours;
- Media and communications;
- The presence of male staff and volunteers.109
(See Exhibit 8-2, The ABCs of a Father-friendly Environment, for other ways to assess whether an agency or program is father-friendly.)
8.4 Working with Mothers
Many fatherhood program development experts agree that it is crucial that mothers' perspectives be involved in the planning of programs for fathers and that mothers be given consideration in the development of service delivery models. Additionally, fatherhood programs should not merely replicate the single gender focus of many of the current social service programs serving mothers and children. Programs that serve only fathers and their children could possibly distort the family perspective as much as programs that serve only mothers and their children. Research finds that the quality of the mother-father relationship is one factor that strongly affects a father's willingness and ability to be involved with his children. Studies indicate that many parents have a positive relationship at the time of the baby's birth, both mothers and fathers want to be actively involved in their child's life, and disagreements among parents may become more intractable over time. This has led to an interest in working with the whole family from the earliest intervention date possible.110
The issue of family violence is another important reason for working with mothers as part of responsible fatherhood efforts. Additionally, experts in the field of domestic violence have identified the lack of services for domestic violence perpetrators as one of the areas that need improvement in order to strengthen violence prevention efforts. Responsible fatherhood program providers also are struggling with the issue and some are developing curriculum and programs to address this important issue.111
The ABCs of a Father-friendly Environment
If your organization aims to promote the importance of father and male involvement, this easy checklist will help to ensure that you have the building blocks of success.
Assets of fathers are emphasized, not their deficits.
Adapted from: Tift, N. (n.d.). The ABCs of a father-friendly environment for maternal and child health agencies. Washington, DC: National Practitioners Network for Fathers and Families.
Identifying Potential Partners112
Whether starting a Federal, State, local, or community program, it may be helpful to collaborate with other groups and organizations. The following types of organizations could be potential partners:
Each group and community should identify the needs of the fathers and families it wishes to serve. Then it is important to discover if such a program already exists or if there is a need to start a new program or group. If the necessary services are already in place, then it may be much easier to collaborate with or coordinate with the existing program. While collaboration is not always easy, it can be less burdensome and faster than trying to create, finance, and operate a separate organization.
8.5 Examples of Fatherhood Programs
As the manual has shown throughout, there are numerous needs and reasons to strengthen the roles of fathers. A wide range of programs exists to meet many of the needs of fathers and their children. The following were selected as examples of programs that span the fatherhood initiative spectrum. They illustrate some of the varied approaches and activities for working with fathers, and along with the Tips for Dads in Appendix E, address some of the issues affecting the bond between fathers and their children—deterrence of unprepared fatherhood, the joys and difficulties of fathering, preventing child abuse and neglect, parenting children with special needs, adoption, and noncustodial fathering. The programs are presented in alphabetical order and provide descriptions as well as contact information. In addition, Appendix B, Resource Listings, includes national organizations that offer resources, products, technical assistance, or other information that may be beneficial.
While listed in a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publication, a program or organization's inclusion does not in any way connote an endorsement of the programs nor were site visits conducted to gather program or evaluation information for this report. Additionally, many programs across all cultural, tribal, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic lines were contacted; only those that provided substantive information were included.
- Boot Camp for New Dads (BCND)
Helping new fathers
- The Children's Trust Fund of Alabama
Meeting the needs of noncustodial fathers
- The Dads 101 Program and Male Involvement Campaign
Working to prevent shaken baby syndrome
- Dads Make a Difference Program
A school-based program led by teens
- Family and Community Violence and Prevention Project and 50/50 Parenting
Working to prevent family violence and to improve couples' relationships
- Fathers and Children Together (FACT)
Working with incarcerated fathers
- The Fathers Network
Working with fathers of children with special needs
- First Things First
Strengthening families through public education campaigns
- Golden Dads
A national campaign to promote responsible fatherhood
- Great Beginnings Start Before Birth
Working with fathers-to-be and their partners
- Leading by Example
A faith-based fatherhood initiative and mentoring program
- Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP)
Enhancing and supporting healthy marriages
- Project Fatherhood
Helping at-risk fathers learn how to parent effectively
- Project MECCA and Another Choice for Black Children
Supporting children and families during and after adoption
- Shalom Baby - Bootcamp for New Jewish Dads
Working with fathers prior to and immediately after birth
- Stay-At-Home Dads
How to start a playgroup or local dad-to-dad chapter
105 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1997). An evaluability assessment of responsible fatherhood programs: Final report [On-line]. Available: http://fatherhood.hhs.gov/evaluaby/chapter1.htm#TOP; Levine, J., & Pitt, E. (1995). New expectations: Community strategies for responsible fatherhood. New York, NY: Family and Work Institute. back
106 May, J. (2002). Lessons learned: Core ideas for building successful "father-friendly" programs. Seattle, WA: Washington State Fathers Network. back
107 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1997); National Center on Fathers and Families. (1994). Fathers and families: Building a framework to support practice and research. Philadelphia, PA: Author. back
108 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1997); National Center on Fathers and Families. (1994). back
109 U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Labor. (2001). Meeting the challenge: What the federal government can do to support responsible fatherhood efforts [On-line]. Available: http://fatherhood.hhs.gov/guidance01/ch2.htm#s4. back
110 U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Labor. (2001). back
111 U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Labor. (2001). back
112 U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Labor. (2001). back
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