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Turning Pandemic Lessons into Opportunities in the Delivery of Fatherhood Programs

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Apr 16, 2024
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On the afternoon of March 11, 2020, I was enjoying a sunny day in the ATX, celebrating my daughter’s 22nd birthday with family and her friends. That’s the day the lives of United States citizens were changed forever by the COVID-19 pandemic.

If your organization was involved at that time in delivering a fatherhood program or any other program for families, the operations of that program likely came to a screeching halt. Staff had to mobilize quickly and pivot to virtual delivery, a mode that most organizations had never considered viable, let alone desirable.

Incarcerated dads were hit particularly hard by the pandemic. These dads became even more isolated from their families. The pandemic’s impact on correctional systems also affected these dads' programs. Many facilities stopped delivering the evidence-based programs of National Fatherhood Initiative® (NFI) altogether. Some correctional facilities that continued delivering our programs saw reduced participation. Moreover, facilities using their own staff to deliver our programs were hampered by staff attrition in the corrections industry that continues to this day. Facilities using staff from our human service partners to deliver our programs wouldn’t allow those staff into the facilities because of restrictions to mitigate the virus’ transmission.

When Challenge Meets Opportunity

Framing a challenge as an opportunity is one of the mental models that’s served me well in helping NFI and our partners maximize impact. (It’s also helped me personally by benefitting my mental health!) As we grappled with the challenge of the pandemic, we saw an opportunity to help our partners pivot to virtual delivery. This pivot was challenging enough for our partners serving dads who weren’t incarcerated. But it was a more daunting challenge for those serving incarcerated dads. Many facilities didn’t have the technology required for virtual delivery, such as open wireless systems and adequate bandwidth.

NFI staff studied our partners’ pivot to virtual delivery. We also monitored the virtual delivery of other family-strengthening and behavior-change programs. We looked for common themes and lessons learned to identify bright spots in delivering programs effectively. We learned what worked and didn’t work. We shared case studies of partners succeeding with virtual delivery and lessons gleaned from many of our partners. We eventually encapsulated what we learned into a tip sheet called 8 Steps for Delivering NFI Programs Virtually… and Successfully! The tip sheet became our main tool in helping other partners make this pivot.

As the pandemic wore on, seeing challenges as opportunities helped us recognize the benefits of virtual delivery and that virtual delivery would continue post-COVID. We continued to share case studies. We added a component on virtual delivery to our program training institutes and the tip sheet as a standard handout.

Have you seen a challenge as an opportunity to improve your fatherhood program?

What challenges does your fatherhood program face that you can frame as an opportunity?

Learn more about the Father Engagement Academy by National Fatherhood Initiative

Topics: Featured, General Fatherhood Program Resources, NFI-Specific Programs & Resources, General Fatherhood Research & Studies, Tips & Tricks

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