We live in a new normal. COVID-19 has impacted us in every way – from where we go and who we see, to what we eat and what we watch.
Fatherhood programs are not exempt. The pandemic has forced service providers to deliver programs differently, especially since in-person groups are not an option.
BCFS Health & Human Services is a non-profit agency that moved their fatherhood groups to virtual platforms – and did it successfully. They are funded by the Department of Family and Protective Services to run fatherhood programs in Harlingen and Abilene, TX.
BCFS’s Fatherhood EFFECT program started in 2014 and has two Parent Educators that facilitate National Fatherhood Initiative®’s (NFI’s) 24/7 Dad® program in detention centers, substance abuse treatment facilities, and at Dyess Air Force Base.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, BCFS delivered their programs in a group-based setting. Now, they’ve moved their programs to virtual platforms and have 22 dads participating in one of three classes.
To deliver their program virtually, BCFS:
- Uses the GroupMe App to communicate with their cohorts in between sessions (e.g. session reminders, date or time changes, and follow-up). GroupMe is a private chat room for groups that works on any device.
- Uses Zoom for their group sessions at Dyess Air Force Base. Zoom is a platform for video and audio conferencing, collaboration, chat, and webinars across all devices.
- Uses Skype for their group sessions at one substance abuse treatment facility since the site already used that platform. BCFS made it easy for their partners to switch to virtual delivery. In this case, BCFS used their partner’s platform instead of forcing them to change. Skype is free software that enables video and voice group calls, instant messaging, and file sharing. Skype works on any device.
- Ships 24/7 Dad® Fathering Handbooks from NFI directly to dads’ homes. BCFS protocol prohibits staff from shipping from their locations to clients’ homes, so this tactic ensures dads can still receive fathering handbooks.
Additionally, BCFS Parent Educators had to learn:
- How to use the “screen share” feature on their platform instead of a flip chart. Facilitators prepare a document with key points before each session, then share it when they reference those points during a session.
- When to show the Stories of Impact videos included on the 24/7 Dad® flash drive. Before going virtual, facilitators didn’t show any videos, but now use them to keep dads engaged.
- How to get dads to interact virtually. During the first virtual session, dads just sat back. They weren’t used to seeing everyone on a computer screen. To get them to participate, facilitators asked dads what they thought about something that any of the other dads had shared. This question helped dads talk directly to the facilitator when they weren’t ready to have conversations among themselves. As each session passed, however, dads became more comfortable in the virtual setting and interacting with each other.
The COVID-19 situation also provided opportunities. BCFS staff can reach dads who they wouldn’t have been able to with in-person facilitation. BCFS was able to serve dads in a substance abuse treatment facility, for example, who had been on a waiting list for the program. They enlisted a facilitator from another county to serve those dads virtually.
While the pandemic has created health concerns and challenges, it’s also created opportunities to provide services in new ways. NFI has resources to help, including a pandemic discussion board in the Father Engagement Learning Community™ and the COVID-19 web page at fatherhood.org that contains details on how to deliver NFI programs virtually.
Together, we can keep dads safe while helping them be the best dads they can be.
What changes have you made to the delivery of your fatherhood program during the pandemic?
Are there new strategies or tactics you can implement to do so?