One of the most difficult programs to recruit dads into is a home visiting program.
In some cases, the reason dads don’t participate is a lack of effort on the part of home visitors who are more comfortable working with moms. These home visitors simply don’t make the effort to involve dads. But even when home visitors make the effort, they may face a number of barriers that include:
- Dads are at work when a visitor schedules a home visit.
- Dads’ perception that the program is only for moms.
- Dads lack interest because the program doesn’t contain a dad-specific component or use dad-specific resources.
National Fatherhood Initiative® (NFI) has made a concerted effort in recent years to help home visiting programs at the state and local levels to more effectively engage dads. This effort has involved creating resources and programs home visitors can use to recruit and engage dads regardless of the home visiting model they use, such as the Home Visitation Bundle and Fathering in 15™.
It has also involved helping organizations modify NFI’s group-based programs for use during home visits—namely, 24/7 Dad® for work with dads and Understanding Dad® and Mom as Gateway™ booster session for work with moms—and sharing stories of their success.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Executive Director Donna Miller of the Exchange Club Parenting Skills Center in Stamford, CT, an organization focused on the prevention of child abuse and neglect that has done a remarkable job integrating 24/7 Dad® and Mom as Gateway™. They started to integrate them in July 2017, just a little more than one year ago. What I learned about the Exchange Club’s success in its work with dads extends beyond the integration of 24/7 Dad®. What they’ve done so very well can help any home visiting program recruit and engage dads.
The Exchange Club’s home visiting program primarily serves dads involved with the state’s child welfare system. These dads have either had a child removed from their own or the mom’s home, or are at risk to have their child removed. The dads are diverse in race and ethnicity and include White, Black, Hispanic, and biracial dads. More than 45 dads have completed 24/7 Dad®. Every dad who has started the program has completed it.
To create a steady stream of participants, the Exchange Club first created a partnership with the state agency that oversees Connecticut’s child welfare system, the Department of Children and Families (DCF), and then created a strong referral network of community organizations and programs in and around Stamford. The state agency refers dads to the Exchange Club and requires that they complete 24/7 Dad® as a step toward gaining custody of their child again or for the first time. This carrot is a huge incentive for the dads to enroll in and complete the program. Because of the Exchange Club’s 100 percent success rate, Donna shared that her contacts at DCF would like to establish more of these programs across the state. The referral network has helped the program expand its service to other at-risk dads and start to serve the community’s more affluent dads.
Donna pointed to another key to their success recruiting dads—the Exchange Club’s strengths-based approach in its work with parents. They leverage dads’ strengths rather than focus on dads’ weaknesses. A strengths-based approach builds parents’ competencies (resilience and resourcefulness) in raising children. It is the strengths-based approach in 24/7 Dad® that attracted Donna and her staff to the program. She said the dads appreciate the program’s focus on building the competencies (characteristics) of the 24/7 Dad. This focus helps retain dads in the program. Dads participate in the entire standard visit, a visit that lasts two hours, the typical length of a 24/7 Dad® session.
Donna added that they not only use a strengths-based approach in their programming, they use it to recruit dads. “From the moment we walk in the door,” Donna said, “We tell dad who we are and what we’re about—a strengths-based approach. We tell them about the success of dads who have gone through the program, tell them it’s voluntary, and that they determine whether they want to participate in [the program]. We tell them how long it will last, and dads sign a commitment statement to participate in and complete the program.” Donna added that this approach empowers dads to make a voluntary decision to participate.
They also give a “shout out” to the referring agency, including DCF, something that’s quite unusual for dads involved in a child welfare system to hear. She said, “We tell dad that the referring source must have thought you were capable of great things—they have faith in you.” This positive statement about DCF helps with a dad who thinks DCF removed his child because DCF hates him. This can help a dad who might be reluctant to enroll to see DCF and the Exchange Club as his partners rather than as adversaries.
Staff who go the extra mile is a final and no less important component to their success in recruiting and retaining dads. “For those who are cognitively limited or don’t like to read,” Donna remarked, “We offer to read for and write for them.” Donna added, “A willingness to be flexible helps, too. A lot of times we’re [in the home] for almost three hours. We go into the home every week for a visit and sometimes go another time if there is a crisis and [dad] needs help outside of the program.”
Integration of 24/7 Dad® and Mom as Gateway™
Donna shared that they deliver 24/7 Dad® in its entirety. The only modification they make is to eliminate the group-based activities and the use of a flip chart or whiteboard. Donna explained that it’s quite easy for a home visitor to make this modification. They use all of the components of 24/7 Dad®, most important the Fathering Handbook, and the Fathering Survey to measure the program’s impact.
When I asked Donna about the most important impact she’s seen with dads who have completed the program, she pointed to:
- Improved engagement of dads in their own lives (e.g. self-care) and their children’s lives.
- Even dads who have never spoken with their child’s mother have learned to do so respectfully and, as a result, have gotten more visitation and participation in the general life of their child.
- Children valuing school more and increased school attendance as a result of dads getting more involved in their child’s life in general and school in particular.
And a report the Exchange Club delivered to DCF noted perhaps the most important outcome related to the prevention of child abuse and neglect: “Cases have closed or are preparing to close, with no repeat calls for intervention. We have witnessed…a marked decrease in violence.”
If you operate a home visiting program, NFI can conduct a customized training institute on how to integrate 24/7 Dad® and Understanding Dad™ for use with dads one-on-one during home visits or as a group-based addition to your home visiting program. Click here for more information on our trainings and to request a quote.
Does your home visiting program include a dad-specific component and resources?
Do you realize how easy and cost-effective it is to integrate the Home Visitation Bundle and Fathering in 15™ into a home visiting program or any kind of fatherhood or parenting program?