The Father Factor

Dads Who Have Children with Special Health Care Needs – How to be of Help, Part 2

Posted by Louis Mendoza

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Jan 23, 2018


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Last week we gave you the U.S. Maternal and Child Health Care Bureau definition of children and youth with special health care needs, how many children fit this definition, what percentage of families have a child with a special health care need and covered our first 5 tips for how to be of help when working with these dads. If you missed it, you can find it here.

Below you’ll find an additional 5 tips. 

Tips 6-10: How to help dads of children with special health care needs.

6. Help Them to be Advocates
It’s not unusual for those who work with families who have children with special health care needs to seek input from family members on many issues related to the work they do. This could be regarding services provided, medical treatment, educational curriculum, and communication efforts - the list goes on. And, although the balance is getting a bit better, the ones who usually do things like offer feedback, sit on panels, and talk to legislators are women. Often the fathers voice isn’t sought out and when it is it can be difficult to get dads involved. There are many possible reasons for this, anything from work schedules to family schedules. But, the male perspective is often different and communicated in a different way. It’s important for that voice and that perspective to be heard. Help the dads that you work with to be prepared and trained to tell their story, to advocate for their family and for other families. And, then help them find opportunities to tell that story.

 7. Needs and Questions Change as Children Get Older
The needs and questions of a dad of a newborn will naturally be different from a dad whose child is now an adult. Have resources or referrals available to help dads wherever their children are on that age continuum. As was mentioned in part 1, help dads connect to other dads and make those connections with dads whose children are at a similar age or developmental level. 

8. Self-Care
Having a child with special health care needs can be a wonderful experience but can also be time consuming, tiring and stressful. Carving out time during the day or the week for him, for the relationship that dad has with mom, and the relationship he has with friends are crucially important. It may be difficult to do but giving his life some balance will help him be a better dad.  Help dad to understand the importance of finding time for himself and his relationships.

 9. Be Strong, Be Vulnerable
Many men are still raised to and feel the social pressure of being the “man” of the house. Have a job, make sure there’s money for the bills, fix what’s broken and don’t unburden yourself on the woman in the relationship. This feeling of being strong for the family can feel especially profound for a dad who has a child with special health care needs. All this isn’t necessarily bad but can create an environment where dad doesn’t feel that he can express a need that he has. Help dad and the family to understand the benefits of dad being able to express his needs, of being vulnerable enough to ask for help.

 10. Don’t Forget the Importance of Moms in Encouraging Dads to Seek Support 
As mentioned, dads are often not very good at seeking support. Often it is at the encouragement of the mom that dads will attend a support group meeting, attend a conference or workshop or go to a social gathering. So, consider including moms in communications (e.g. newsletters, emails, social media postings) to dads.

If you have questions or comments about any of the tips, additional tips or run a program supporting dads who have children with special needs - we’d love to hear from. Please contact Louis Mendoza at

The Washington State Dad Affiliates is currently made up of the following organizations:



Topics: General Fatherhood Research & Studies

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