As a single father and kinship care provider, I often encountered a lack of father engagement during my search for quality and affordable child care. There was a lack of dignity and respect for my role as a father. In my professional experience, working with at-risk youth and on fatherhood initiatives, I see these barriers repeated for other fathers trying to get involved in the early nurturing, development and care of their babies. That is why I am here to discuss father engagement and give some common sense ideas for father friendly practices.
Father Engagement refers to two things in this blog.
- At home. A father’s participation and engagement in the care, nurturing and upbringing of their child.
- Within programs and systems. When providers and professionals engage and honor fathers in their role as parents, and thus their role as their child’s first and best teachers.
I believe that many of the issues our society deals with are related to a lack of father engagement. According to a 2010 study, 72% percent of Black children are being raised in homes without their father. Imagine how this effects a child’s sense of security and self-esteem! Could this play a role in the disproportionate number of African American children being expelled from child care? Is there a connection between father engagement in early childhood and child care? My perception is that there might be a disconnection that we can begin to bridge with a few common sense strategies.
Word on the street is that “bonding” and “attachment” is what makes parents instinctively care for and nurture their children. Bonding refers to the special attachment that forms between a parent and their new baby. This bond is what sends parents rushing into their newborn’s room in the middle of the night at the slightest whimper. If ¾ of a population of fathers are not in the home with the child, then fathers that are not positioned to experience the bonding that occurs with holding, feeding, diaper changing, and skin-to-skin contact with the child. When and where does the bond between father and children occur?
Child care organizations, providers and communities play such an integral and important role in engaging and supporting fathers during these early years. Birth to age five is a time when development and attachment is critical and it’s in the best interest of children that we strive to be more aware of and intentional about encouraging father engagement. Additionally, early care and education professionals, programs, and systems can get more creative around how they engage fathers. I challenge you to consider how you can promote both types of father engagement by exploring the following opportunities.
- Be Intentional. If you primarily have contact with the mothers of the children in your program, consider ways that you can be more intentional about connecting with the children’s fathers.
- Outreach. Host classes, workshops and other opportunities that will encourage father-child bonding
- Inform. Provide education, information and outreach specifically to dads and other important men in a child’s life
- Address Bias. Train and have conversations with staff around recognizing individual biases that create barriers to engaging fathers. Especially those that place minorities and fathers not living in the child’s home at a disadvantage.
- Collaborate. Create collaborations with local fatherhood programs to help improve connections with fathers in your program.
- Assess. Consider using the National Fatherhood Initiative's, Father Friendly Checkup™, guide to assess your organization's culture and practices related to father engagement.
- Partner. with hospitals and health care providers to reached out to new fathers.
- Arm fathers with information that demonstrates the importance of their role and prepares them to participate in their children’s learning.
- Encourage them to be present at the child’s birth, meetings with caregivers, and providers.
- Advocate. Identify and address laws and policies that serve as systematic barriers to fathers.
If you implement even a few of these recommendations, my guess is that more fathers would welcome the opportunity to become engaged in the early development and education of their children.
Ray Washington is a father, grandparent, kinship provider, and role model for children in his community. He is an advocate for healthy parent-child relationships, father engagement, and accessible community resources. Most recently, he was part of the team that produced the PBS documentary Finding Fatherhood In Colorado. This article was originally posted on April 17th, 2019 at childcareaware.org and is reposted here with permission from ChildCare Aware of America.