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The Father Factor

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Erik Vecere

Recent Posts

Don’t Leap Before You Look: Properly Preparing to Work with Fathers

I love to see the excitement in participants’ eyes when they complete our Father-Friendly Check-Up™ workshop and realize how many low or no-cost action steps they can take to increase their father-readiness.

I also enjoy helping direct-service providers become aware of things they can do to engage fathers (e.g. letting their negative experiences with their own father or father of their child affect their interaction with dads connected to their services). I have seen these revelations many times over the course of my 12 years at NFI and it never gets old.

father-readiness training kitThis is why I am excited about the release of our new Father-Readiness Training Kit™ because it allows you to do everything I’ve done in the Father-Friendly Check-Up™ workshop for your organization and/or for leaders in your community as many times as you would like. You are receiving the benefit of 15 years of experience in a do-it-yourself kit that includes a step-by-step user’s guide.

So what exactly do I mean by “father-readiness?”

“Father-readiness” refers to a process implemented by:

  • an organization,
  • group of organizations,
  • group of community leaders,

...to create an environment (e.g. an organizational or community culture) that increases father engagement. 

Oftentimes, direct-service providers jump right into providing programs and services for fathers before they address barriers within the organization or community that prevent fathers from accessing and effectively using programs and services in the first place.

In some cases, organizations and communities don’t address these barriers because they might not realize they exist. In other cases, they’re simply more comfortable launching a direct-service effort than undertaking the foundational work that creates a supportive environment.

Unfortunately, this “leap before you look” approach can lead to...

  • low father engagement,
  • poor program and service outcomes, and
  • an unsustainable effort to effectively engage fathers.

The Father-Readiness Training Kit™ provides everything you need to create father-ready organizations via a Father Friendly Check-Up™ training within your organization, with or for other organizations in your community, or for a group of community leaders.

The kit includes the Father Friendly Check-Up™ assessment, which is the tool around which the father-readiness process is built. 

NFI developed the Father-Friendly Check-Up™ in 2000 to respond to the need of organizations for an assessment of their capacity to engage their staff in the delivery of services and programs for fathers, of their organization to increase father-involvement in the families they serve, and for low and no-cost strategies to help them do so.

NFI has refined this tool many times since then. Consequently, this version is the culmination of over a decade of use and responds to feedback from the thousands of staff who have used it in organizations across the country that are as diverse as...

  • Head Starts and Early Head Starts;
  • home-visitation programs (e.g. Circle of Parents and Nurse-Family Partnership);
  • child welfare agencies;
  • schools;
  • public health departments; and
  • family support programs on military installations.

These organizations have used it to effectively engage their fellow staff in delivering fatherhood services and programs and to increase father involvement in the lives of children. 

Of particular significance to the refinement of the check-up is what NFI learned from using it during the five-year (2006 – 2011) National Responsible Fatherhood Capacity-Building Initiative (NRFCBI) funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)/Administration for Children and Families/Office of Family Assistance. During the NRFCBI, NFI worked intensively with each of nearly 125 organizations from across the country for one year (20-25 organizations per year) to build their capacity to serve fathers.

The check-up was the primary tool with which NFI assessed progress toward improving the organizations’ capacity by comparing their capacity before and after their participation in the initiative. NFI has received feedback on the value and usefulness of the check-up and on how to improve it from staff in these organizations and stakeholders (e.g. U.S. DHHS staff and organizations’ board members).

In addition to this assessment, the Father-Readiness Training Kit™ includes a collection of files, included on the CD-ROM, which will help elevate fatherhood work in your organization, other organizations, or in your community no matter the setting in which an organization operates or the kinds of fathers that are the target of a father-engagement effort.

The Father-Readiness Training Kit™ has already been successfully used to increase the father friendliness of agencies and community stakeholders.

A great example of this is highlighted in the following email that was sent to NFI staff from a Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) organization in Odessa, TX that used the training kit to provide their own Father Friendly Check-Up™ training:

The workshop went quite well. Of course, I followed the same agenda as Erik [facilitator from NFI] with only a few modifications. There were four (4) home visitors from HIPPY and three (3) Home Instructors from PAT. Also attending was the recently hired Father Engagement Specialist from Head Start. The PAT coordinator and I led the workshop. A total of eight (8) participants with two (2) coordinators.  

Home visitors loved the icebreaker and shared some interesting information about their fathers. Home visitors were shocked at some of the statistical information. This information about children growing up in fatherless homes and what women think about fathers was an eye-opener to home visitors. I believe that it was the beginning of changing their attitudes about fathers and the importance of including them in HIPPY and PAT.  

Home visitors from PAT and HIPPY were able to share ideas about making both programs more father-friendly. I think that everyone left with a good understanding of the four (4) assessment categories and the future task of our program.  

Ultimately, the Father-Readiness Training Kit™ will establish the “Velcro” that the fatherhood services in your organization and/or community stick to and will also ensure those services are fully integrated into the very fabric of your organization and/or community.

For more information on the Father-Readiness Training Kit™, click here or contact Erik Vercere by at evecere@fatherhood.org or by phone at 240-912-1278.

6 Ways to Involve Moms in Involving Dads

As responsible fatherhood programs continue to increase dads’ motivation to be more involved, responsible, and committed in their child’s life, one challenge has become even more apparent – how do we help custodial moms support the dad’s involvement?

Certainly, there is no easy answer to this challenge especially in situations where the relationship between the mom and dad has negative emotional energy surrounding it.

However, it all starts with helping both parents understand that healthy co-parenting is going to increase the well-being of their children and helping moms understand their tremendous influence over the dad’s motivation to be involved.  Studies have demonstrated that when mothers perceived their partners as motivated and competent to engage in child care responsibilities, fathers were more involved in childcare.

Here are 6 specific strategies that you can consider to address this critical father involvement issue:

  1. Encourage the healthy development of the father-mother relationship among clients, whether or not the father and mother are together.
  2. Work with mothers to involve fathers in the lives of children. Some of NFI's Low Intensity resources such as the Pocketbook for Moms™: A Pocketbook Full of Ways to Communicate with Dad can help moms understand how to better communicate with dad so that he can be more involved in his children's lives.
  3. Assess situations when the mother does not want the father involved and help both the mother and the father resolve differences with the best interest of the child in mind. (This is kind of the "It's not about YOU" mentality...it's about what is best for your children to grow up happy and healthy.)
  4. Encourage mothers to cooperate with fathers in raising children and vice versa, unless abuse of a child or spouse by the other parent has been substantiated.
  5. Develop marketing plans that include targeting mothers in order to encourage fathers to get involved. For example, if you have specific programs for moms, consider offering a fatherhood workshop such as The 7 Habits of a 24/7 Dad and ask the moms you serve to invite the fathers of their children to attend the workshop.
  6. Understanding DadOffer specific group-based programs that raise mothers’ awareness of potential gatekeeping, how their relationship with their own father affects the relationship with the father of their children, and how to communicate effectively with their child’s dad such as Understanding Dad™.  

In fact, moms involving dads is SO important, that NFI now offers a suite of resources and curricula designed to accomplish all of these objectives which you can review here.

Remember: Fatherhood is part of a larger system that involves the mom, other family members and the community.  Even if a dad has the ability and desire to be a good dad, he will be limited by the degree to which all of these other relationships support him in accomplishing that goal - chief of which, is the mom.

Sexy Sustainability: The Missing Element in Effective Father Engagement

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Sustainability planning and execution of that plan is the most important investment for any social service agency or non-profit organization looking to effectively engage fathers, mothers, and the community around responsible fatherhood. Planning is not as “sexy” as starting up a new program for dads, but it is the groundwork that makes the sexy programming possible...and sustainable.

All too often I’ve seen the disruption (or elimination) of fatherhood services in communities because the larger agencies where the fatherhood services were offered didn’t weave this work into the fabric of their organizational culture.  I’ve seen grant writers miss opportunities to write fatherhood resources into proposals that focus on broader issues, but clearly have a father factor involved.  I’ve seen executive staff give up trying to hire male staff prematurely.  There have been missed opportunities because staff have not formally mapped community assets or looked seriously at the father-friendliness of the agency’s physical environment.

Conversely, the “best practice agencies” that I’ve come across over the years consistently assess and improve their leadership development, organizational development, program development, and community engagement from the lens of father engagement and convert their assessment to specific tasks that have a clear “who, what, when” attached. 

Moreover, quantitative data -- which we gathered running a federally-funded project to build organizational sustainability in the fatherhood field -- reveal that agencies that develop action plans around the abovementioned categories increase overall sustainability in the short term, and that those gains hold in the long term.  Ninety-eight percent of those organizations increased their sustainability by the end of the first year of developing these father-friendly action plans.  Ninety-three percent maintained or further increased their sustainability after 2 years (Source: 2010, National Responsible Fatherhood Capacity-Building Initiative, Inspiration to Implementation).

In spite of this information, many agencies lack the resources, tools, awareness, and support to take this process as seriously as they should. The end result is that we have few (if any) parenting programs in our communities that are balanced in male and female participation.  This translates into fewer men becoming better dads and lower child well-being outcomes.

When agencies are forced to take a hard look at their organizational culture rather than just their services (which tends to be the default for most), it helps them create the Velcro that their programs and services can stick to.  But making these kinds of changes are not for the faint of heart and agency leaders need to be properly prepared, equipped, and trained to understand how to disrupt the present in order to change the future.

It is for that reason that National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) is committed to helping organizations attain sustainability for fatherhood work regardless of what the funding landscape looks like.  In our five years running the abovementioned federal project, we learned how to measure gains in sustainability and capacity, and how to help organizations maximize those gains.  From our free Father Friendly Check Up assessment to our 5 Steps to Fatherhood Programming Success, NFI recognizes that systemic change and better outcomes for fathers and families begins with community leaders and agencies doing a better job of creating a continual and uninterrupted stream of services for fathers. 

Here’s to making sustainability sexy… for the sake of our nation’s fatherless children.

Photo credit here

Creating Change in Your Organization or Community

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One of the biggest challenges in creating change in any organization is getting the right people onboard at the right time.  Helping your organization or community develop a passion for reaching fathers is no different. 

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell provides a great way to understand who you need onboard in order for responsible fatherhood to spread like wildfire.  He describes three categories of people: connectors, mavens, and salesmen.  

Connectors are people who know a lot of people.

Mavens accumulate knowledge and to whom people go if they have questions.

Salesman are people that can sell absolutely anything.

So the next time you are trying to put together either an internal team or need to assemble a group of community leaders to address fatherhood issues in your community, make sure you have an equal representation of these three categories of people.  You will increase your probability of having a much greater impact and moving closer to a tipping point for responsible fatherhood!

Photo credit: http://ruthcatchen.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/change/

4 Factors for Successful Father Involvement

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Are you looking to help the fathers you work with be more involved in their children's lives? Michael Lamb, who has conducted research on father involvement for many years, identified four factors that influence the level of a father's involvement. They are: social supports, skills and self-confidence, institutional/cultural factors, and motivation. 

Your organization can have a direct impact on the first three factors by using father-specific curricula, such as our 24/7 Dad™ program, to help dads build strong peer mentoring supports, improve their fathering skills, and give them the confidence in their ability to be a good dad. You can improve the institutional/cultural factors for dads by becoming a father-friendly organization in your community. A great way to do that is to assess your father-friendliness by using the Father-Friendly Check-Up™.

By addressing these first three factors in an intentional way, your organization will ultimately have a direct impact on each father's motivation to be an involved, responsible, and committed dad.
 
 

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