The Father Factor

Tools to Help Female Staff Engage Fathers—Even Better [Part 2 of 2]

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Jan 31, 2019


As we shared in Tuesday's blog, there are 3 things that can hinder female staff’s ability and desire to engage dads. If you missed that post, please read it here.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that we’re not in the business of raising an issue without recommending a solution. In this case, we’re talking about a solution to the possible ways that female staff could be hindering your organization’s ability to effectively engage fathers in your programs and services.

Read on to learn the steps you can take to spark change in your organization.

Discuss Change

To begin, it’s important to know that the need for change to have all staff more effectively serve fathers won’t be obvious to everyone and may, in fact, only be obvious to a very few. You may be one of the few people in your organization that sees the need for change to effectively serve fathers and when bringing it up with others, you may encounter some—or a lot—of resistance.

To lay the groundwork for change (and blunt resistance), use a calm, constructive, positive tone, and frame change in a way that will resonate with women. In a staff meeting (as applicable) or in one-on-one conversations, discuss the desire to better engage fathers in your services and programs. When doing so:

  • Focus on how change will benefit mothers, such as by increasing their ability to be good mothers through reduced stress and fewer financial worries that result from greater father involvement.
  • Cast a vision of the positive effects of father involvement on children, such as increased graduation rates; increased mental, physical, and emotional health; and wholesome childhoods filled with wonderful experiences.
  • Talk from the heart about the benefits of healthy father-child and father-mother relationships.
  • Talk about how change will help the organization be more successful in pursuing its strategic and tactical objectives and mission (and mention them specifically if possible).

Your capacity for diplomacy and measured responses to difficult questions about the need for and benefits of change will dictate the extent to which you can build trust among staff and that you have their and the organization’s best interests in mind. At the same time, approach change with a sense of urgency and communicate that urgency to staff.

It may help you to be armed with data and statistics on the benefits of father involvement for children. You can find many free father absence statistics on our website here. You could also invest in a copy of NFI's Father Facts™ publication.

Use Tools for Change

Entering any process of change without resources that facilitate change is like trying to build a house without wood, sheetrock, and a nail gun. NFI has tools that can help you facilitate change specifically related to serving fathers.

Tool 1: The Free Father Friendly Checkup™

Since the late 1990s, National Fatherhood Initiative® (NFI) has helped social service agencies change their cultures through the assessment of an organization’s culture and the attitudes of staff (at all levels of an organization) when it comes to working with fathers. The primary tool NFI has used in this endeavor is The Father Friendly Check-Up which helps you look at how well your organization and staff engage fathers in programs and services, and whether the culture of your organization is well suited for effectively engaging fathers. Even if you are the only person who completes the The Father Friendly Check-Up™, you need to start with some idea of how much distance the organization must cover to become effective at serving fathers.

The Father Friendly Check-Up™ consists of four parts or “assessment categories”:

  • Leadership Development
  • Organizational Development
  • Program Development
  • Community Engagement

Download your copy of the assessment here.


Tools 2 & 3: Mom as Gateway™ and Understanding Dad™

In addition to the free check-up, some organizations have used two of our mother-focused resources—the Mom as Gateway™ workshop and Understanding Dad™ program—to place an emphasis on helping female staff better understand fathers, their importance, and, for those who have had challenges with men and fathers in their own lives, work through their personal issues with men and fathers. 

Both resources strengthen the relationships mothers have with the fathers of their children ultimately for the sake of their children. NFI created these resources based on research that shows mothers often act as gatekeepers when it comes to fathers’ access to their children and that fatherhood programs are more effective when they also engage mothers in helping them to understand the importance of father involvement.[1] The response to both programs has been excellent. Hundreds of organizations run the workshop or the program with moms (some run both).

What’s interesting is that in a pilot of these programs in Coshocton County, OH (Family P.A.C.T. Center) and in Allegheny County, PA (Allegheny Intermediate Unit), the organizations also found a dual use: to enhance female staff’s motivation and skills to effectively engage fathers.

This creative use of these resources is an exciting development in efforts to change the culture of organizations to more effectively serve fathers!

Here’s a quick description of each resource in case you aren't familiar with them:

  • Mom as Gateway™ is a six-hour workshop with a focus on “maternal gatekeeping” which refers to a mother’s protective beliefs about the desirability of a father’s involvement in their child’s life, and the behaviors acted upon that either facilitates or hinder collaborative childrearing (often called “shared parenting” or “co-parenting”) between the parents. Maternal gatekeeping occurs regardless of whether parents are married, divorced or unmarried, and regardless of the parents’ satisfaction with the relationship between them. Learn more about Mom as Gateway™ here.

  • Understanding Dad™ is a group-based program with a focus on self-awareness and communication, which are both vital to improving the relationships between them and the fathers of their children. It covers topics that help mothers gain a better understanding of their life as a mother, their impact of their own father and mother on their lives (e.g. how the relationships with their own parents shape their view of men and the fathers of their children), the effects on children of the mothers’ view of their children’s fathers, and the importance of father involvement. After they raise their self-awareness, the program shifts toward communication by examining, for example, how to better listen and communicate. Learn more about Understanding Dad™ here.

Suggestions for how to use these two resources with staff:

  • Approach #1 – The Mom as Gateway™ Immersion Approach. Because the entire Mom as Gateway™ workshop can be delivered in only six hours, take your staff through the full workshop as if they were mothers served by your organization. Conduct the entire workshop in one day or spread it over two (e.g. 3 hours per day) or three days (e.g. one session per day). Consider integrating it into a staff training/in-service schedule, but don’t let too much time separate the segments of the training. Too much time between segments of the training (e.g. a month or more) will hinder learning. Regardless of how you decide to immerse staff, simply follow the step-by-step facilitation instructions found in the Mom as Gateway™ Facilitator’s Manual.
  • Approach #2 – The Mom as Gateway™ Abbreviated  Approach. If you can’t conduct the entire workshop, review the Mom as Gateway™ Facilitator’s Manual and pull out key concepts to present during one or more staff trainings. You could create a visually engaging presentation (e.g. using PowerPoint®) and handouts. If you have time, facilitate one of the sessions in the workshop that you think would have the most impact on staff. You could also, depending on time, select one of the three sessions (i.e. several activities) to facilitate in its entirety. If you can select only one of the sessions, we recommend Session 1 because it helps staff define gatekeeping, understand how gatekeeping applies to childcare, and reinforces alternatives to restrictive gatekeeping.
  • Approach #3 – The Understanding Dad™ Immersion  Approach. Take staff through the eight sessions of the program. You could conduct one session per week for eight weeks (the most common periodicity) or twice a week for four weeks. We don’t recommend more than two times per week because it doesn’t allow enough time for the learning to “soak in.” Two sessions per week requires 4-6 hours of time and includes a lot of content for mothers to absorb. That said, if you have an opportunity to conduct it over an entire weekend or a couple of weekends—during which staff would be completely focused on it without distraction—consider that option as well. Regardless of how you decide to immerse staff, simply follow the step-by-step facilitation instructions found in the Understanding Dad™ Facilitator’s Manual.
  • Approach #4 – The Understanding Dad™ Abbreviated  Approach. If you can’t conduct the entire program, review the Understanding Dad™ Facilitator’s Manual and select as many sessions as you have the ability and time to conduct that you think would have the most impact on staff. Regardless of how many sessions you select, we recommend you include Session One: My Life as a Mom. If you can’t conduct at least one session, review the Understanding Dad™ Facilitator’s Manual and pull out key concepts to present during one or more staff trainings. You could create a visually engaging presentation (e.g. using PowerPoint®) and handouts.
  • Approach #5 – The Dual Immersion  Approach. Conduct both programs in their entirety. This approach is, clearly, the most comprehensive. Conduct sessions on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to cover the combined 11 sessions in three months or less. While you can start with either Mom as Gateway™ or Understanding Dad™, we recommend starting with Mom as Gateway because its focus on maternal gatekeeping provides an excellent framework for staff to prepare for the more in-depth training in Understanding Dad™. Indeed, the organizations that have used both resources report that starting with Mom as Gateway™ leaves mothers asking for more and, as a result, makes them more motivated to attend Understanding Dad™.
  • Approach #6 – The Dual Abbreviated  Approach. Conduct sessions from the workshop and program or simply pull out key concepts from each of them to create a presentation.

Regardless of the approach you take, a great perspective is that of treating staff no differently than if they were mothers served by your organization. Let them participate as mothers, not staff.

Now, it’s time for you to take the first step! Thank you for helping to make your organization a great environment for engaging fathers.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us to further discuss using these resources with female staff. We’re here to support you in all of your father engagement efforts—especially the tough ones.

Want to download and keep a copy of this information? Download our free ebook How to Effectively Train female Staff to Engage Fathers here!

[1] Cowan, P.A., Cowan, C.P., Cohen, N., Pruett, M.K. & Pruett, K.D. (2008). Supporting fathers’ involvement with kids. In J.D. Berrick & N. Gilbert (Eds.), Raising Children: Emerging Needs, Modern Risks, and Social Responses. Oxford University Press, 44-80

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Topics: Featured, General Fatherhood Program Resources, NFI-Specific Programs & Resources, Program Recruitment & Retention, Tips & Tricks

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