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Strengthening Families and The 5 Protective Factors Series: Social Connections (Free Resource)

Posted by Christopher A. Brown

Last week I introduced you to a collaboration between National Fatherhood Initiative® and the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) to create a brief that raises awareness among states and others that use the Strengthening Families™ approach to increase family strengths, enhance child development, and reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. (Click here to view and download the brief from the Free Resources section of NFI’s website.)

Strengthening-Families and The 5 Protective Factors Series Social Connections (Free Resource).jpg

The approach is based on engaging families, programs, and communities in building five protective factors:

  • Parental resilience
  • Social connections
  • Knowledge of parenting and child development
  • Concrete support in times of need
  • Social and emotional competence of children

This post is the second in a five-part series that highlights each of the factors and how NFI’s resources can help those who use the framework to build the factors in their community through more effective engagement of fathers. (Click here to read the post on parental resilience.)

Each post includes more detail on each factor than in the brief. 

Social Connections

About social connections CSSP states, “Friends, family members, neighbors and community members provide emotional support, help solve problems, offer parenting advice and give concrete assistance to parents. Networks of support are essential to parents and also offer opportunities for people to ‘give back’, an important part of self-esteem as well as a benefit for the community. Isolated families may need extra help in reaching out to build positive relationships.”

Many of NFI’s programs include sessions that build the relationship skills essential to fathers effectively connecting with others (adults and children). Father-specific programs and resources are particularly important to developing emotionally- and spiritually-intimate social connections because, compared to women, most men are raised to build networks for the exchange of material goods and information. Their networks do not provide the level of emotional and spiritual support they need to reduce the risk of child abuse and neglect.

NFI’s programs create bonds between fathers and facilitators and among fathers through delivery in a group setting. NFI understands that these powerful connections can and should live beyond the end of father-involvement programs. We provide technical assistance and training to organizations on creating “alumni programs” in which fathers who complete a program can continue to interact formally—by participating in one or more additional programs that further build their pro-fathering skills, attitudes, and knowledge—or informally, such as by volunteering to help the host organization conduct community events and recruit other fathers into programs.

This continued engagement of fathers after a program ends further deepens fathers’ social connections by keeping them engaged in a positive environment/network, a particular challenge when working with fathers who have been socially isolated or involved in networks characterized by anti-social behavior. NFI compiled its knowledge about alumni programs into the free downloadable Creating an Alumni Program for Graduates of a Fatherhood Program: A Guide with Tips and Advice. It features, among other things, model alumni programs in different settings.

A critical component of helping parents create social connections is the ability of a community to provide an environment that nurtures those connections. NFI created the Community Mobilization Approach (CMA) that trains organizations and community leaders from across sectors to mobilize their communities to address father absence and increase father involvement (e.g. through broad-based and sector-specific fatherhood initiatives). NFI has implemented the CMA (or consulted on its implementation) in a diversity of communities (e.g. urban and rural). Implementation of the CMA has resulted in many long-standing fatherhood initiatives (e.g. the Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative). 

NFI works alongside community leaders to implement a three-phase process that comprises the CMA. The process involves participatory research, planning, and implementation, and it produces a customized community action plan. Leaders build, implement, and own the plan, a vital outcome for successful community-wide efforts that address social challenges. This plan facilitates the development of community-wide social connections and supports for fathers. 

Look next week for the third post in this series.

How well connected are the dads you serve to family, friends, and community?

How well connected is your fatherhood effort in the community?

Click here to view and download the brief from NFI's Free Resources section.

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Are you a dad looking for help? Please visit our Fatherhood Program Locator™ and enter your city and state on the map to find programs and resources in your community.

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