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Engaging Fathers and Strengthening Families: Fatherhood and the Future of Our Children


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Title: Engaging Fathers and Strengthening Families: Fatherhood and the Future of Our Children

Engaging Fathers and Strengthening
FamiliesFatherhood and the Future of Our
  • Sean E. Brotherson, PhD
  • NDSU Extension Service
  • Kentucky Fathering Conference
  • October 18, 2013

Fathering Experiences
  • What experiences can you remember or share that
    best capture the importance of a fathers
    influence for you?

Fathering Issues
  • What would you identify as the three most
    critical issues related to fatherhood in society

Fathering Today
  • What expectations do you carry for fathers today?
  • What do you believe would encourage attitudes and
    behavior that make for being a good father?

What is Good Fathering?
  • What are standards that make for being a good
    father, above the standard of being good enough
    as compared to ones father or neighbor?

Strengthening Father Involvement and the
Parent-Child Connection
  • Just a few thoughts . . .what happens when we
    invite fathers into the lives of children?

Dads Raising Kids . . .
Increased Artistic Ability
Kids Get More Rest
Child Care is More Efficient
Potty Training? Who Cares?
A Fathers Goodbye
Section 1 How Should We Think About Fathers and
Perspective Matters . . .
  • The problem is not that men have an elaborate
    idea of fatherhood and then dont live up to it.
    Their idea of fatherhood is embryonic to begin
    with. - Arlie Hochschild, PhD
  • What does this thinking lead to?

Perspective Matters . . .
  • A sampling of the labels and concepts used to
    refer to men and fathers include incompetent,
    unaware, distant, infantile, emotionally
    constricted, emotionally constipated, toxic
    masculinity, narcissistic, abusive, oppressive.
  • What does this thinking lead to?

What is Happening with Fathers?
  • Despite being viewed primarily as a poverty
    issue, welfare really stands at the center of a
    broader social conflagration even more profound
    than the vital issue of economic self-reliance
    the demise of marriage and the increasing
    disappearance of fathers from families. - Wade
    Horn, 1997

Fathers Under Fire
  • Increasingly more children do not live with
    their fathers, relate to their fathers on a
    regular basis, or enjoy the economic support of
    their fathers. In my view, this situation is a
    rending of the moral fabric of family life and
    thus of society as a whole, as a generation of
    men fail to engage in responsible generativity
    toward the next generation. - William J.
    Doherty, 1997

A National Consensus on Fatherhood?
  • An unprecedented consensus is emerging across
    political lines and academic disciplines that a
    key to any national strategy to strengthen
    families and improve the lives of children is the
    increased responsibility of fathers. - James
    Levine and Edward Pitt, 1995

President Clinton on Fatherhood
  • I direct all executive departments and agencies
    to review every program, policy, and initiative
    that pertains to families to ensure, where
    appropriate, and consistent with program
    objectives, that they seek to engage and
    meaningfully include fathers. - President
    William J. Clinton, 1995

President Bush on Fatherhood
  • I am determined to make committed, responsible
    fatherhood a national priority The presence of
    two committed, involved parents contributes
    directly to better school performance, reduced
    substance abuse, less crime and delinquency,
    fewer emotional and other behavioral problems,
    and less risk of abuse or neglect . . .

President Bush on Fatherhood
  • The research is clear fathers factor
    significantly in the lives of their children.
    There is simply no substitute for the love,
    involvement, and commitment of a responsible
    father. - President George W. Bush, 2001

President Obama on Fatherhood
  • One year ago this week, we kicked off a national
    conversation on fatherhood and personal
    responsibility, and members of our administration
    fanned out all across the country to hear from
    fathers and families about the challenges that
    they face. We can all agree that weve got too
    many mothers out there forced to do everything
    all by themselves. Theyre doing a heroic job,
    often under trying circumstances. They deserve a
    lot of credit for that. But they shouldnt have
    to do it alone. The work of raising our children
    is the most important job in this country, and
    its all of our responsibilities -- mothers and

President Obama on Fatherhood
  • Now, I cant legislate fatherhood -- I cant
    force anybody to love a child. But what we can do
    is send a clear message to our fathers that there
    is no excuse for failing to meet their
    obligations. What we can do is make it easier for
    fathers who make responsible choices and harder
    for those who avoid those choices. What we can do
    is come together and support fathers who are
    willing to step up and be good partners and
    parents and providers. President Barack Obama,
  • Current Federal Fatherhood-Related Initiatives
  • Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative (national
    PTA, etc.)
  • Fatherhood, Marriage and Families Innovation Fund
  • Child Support Payment and Engagement
  • Transitional Jobs Initiative for Ex-Offenders and
    Low-Income, Non-Custodial Fathers

Where Do We Begin?
  • Most men take their roles as fathers very
    seriously. Fathers see their roles as providers
    first, nurturers second. Both are essential.
  • Fathers have to be understood in the context of
    their diversity - by age, marital status,
    employment, race, education level, etc.

Where Do We Begin?
  • Fathers have the capacity to be good and
    responsible parents. They perform equally well
    in measures of warmth, sensitivity, etc. as
  • Contrary to popular belief, new research findings
    suggest that fathers with young children 0-3
    years of age are either living with, or actively
    involved in the lives of their children.

To Encourage Responsible Fathering . . .
  • A strategy that consists of holding up a mirror
    to mens faces so they can see their paternal
    warts more clearly is neither visionary nor
  • If fathers are regularly viewed as deficient or
    bumbling, it is not difficult for men to be
    content simply to rise a step or two above
    Neanderthal level on the ladder of good

Responsible Fathers . . .
  • Wait to have a baby until emotionally and
    financially prepared to give support
  • Establish legal paternity if and when he fathers
    a child
  • Actively share with the childs mother in
    continuing emotional and physical care of the
    child, from pregnancy onwards
  • Share with the childs mother in continuing
    financial support of the child

What is Good Fathering?
Good fathering is the work of caring for the next
Section 2 - Why Do Fathers Make a Significant
  • See the research that follows . . .

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Some Basic Facts . . .
  • 24 million children in the US live without their
  • Nearly 2.5 million children join the ranks of
    father-absent homes each year
  • 60 of children born in the 1990s or 2000s will
    spend part of their childhood in a father-absent

Father Involvement and Child Risk
  • Children with fathers who are absent or
    uninvolved are at significantly greater risk in
    their well-being.
  • Areas of risk that are increased for children
  • Economic well-being (poverty, etc.)
  • Social well-being (drug use, etc.)
  • Emotional well-being (depression, etc.)
  • Academic well-being

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Children in Father Absent Homes
  • 11 times more likely to exhibit violent
  • 2-3 times more likely to drop out of school, get
    pregnant as teenagers, abuse drugs
  • 5 times more likely to live in poverty
  • Tend to be more anxious, hostile, withdrawn, and
    less popular with peers

Impact of Fathers on Child Well-Being
  • Children get better marks, less likely to repeat
    a grade or be expelled if fathers are involved in
    school activities
  • Father involvement improves both sons and
    daughters verbal and mathematical abilities
  • Positive father involvement increases self-esteem

Impact of Fathers on Child Well-Being
  • Young adults who have a close relationship to
    their fathers are more likely to be happily
    married, mentally healthy, and have good
    relationships with friends
  • Father involvement in child care was the most
    important factor in rearing compassionate adults

Impact of Fathers on Child Well-Being
  • Adolescents, both boys and girls, who have a
    positive father-child relationship rank
    significantly better on measures of both overall
    and specific well-being
  • Connectedness is the key factor in quality of the
    father-adolescent relationship
  • Brotherson et al., 2002

Impact of Fathers on Child Well-Being
  • Adolescent girls who feel not at all close to
    father 55.8 sexual activity rate
  • Adolescent girls who feel somewhat close to
    father 47.9 sexual activity rate
  • Adolescent girls who feel very close to father
    27.3 activity rate

Impact of Fathers on Child Well-Being Risk of
  • LONGSCAN Study 210 mother-child dyads (70 w/CPS
    reports) relation of male figures to
    maltreatment risk. Between ages 6 and 8
  • 27 percent of children in homes where mother
    paired with non-biological partner had
    documented CPS report
  • 18 percent of children in homes where no father
    reported had reports
  • 3.8 percent of children in homes where mother
    paired with biological father

Nonresident Father Involvement and Child Welfare
  • Reunification outcome
  • Not Involved 16 percent
  • Involved 22 percent
  • Highly Involved 48 percent
  • Adoption outcome
  • Not Involved 45 percent
  • Involved 34 percent
  • Highly Involved 12 percent

Section 3 - How do Fathers Make a Meaningful
  • See the suggestions that follow . . .

Fathering Is
  • Relational Work
  • Mentoring Work
  • Development Work
  • Recreation Work
  • Stewardship Work
  • Spiritual Work
  • Ethical Work

Relational Work- Strategies
  • Healthy Marital or Coparenting Relationship
  • Involvement in Activities w/Children
  • Recreational activities - builds companionship
  • Play/learning activities - builds communication
  • Work activities - builds character
  • Event attendance - builds trust

Relational Work - Strategies
  • Support in Times of Stress - give extra care when
    sick, tired, etc.
  • Be There in Connecting Moments - at birth,
    birthdays, school performances, etc.
  • Be Gentle in Discipline
  • rules - few and clear
  • guidance - gentle but firm
  • emotion - control anger or criticism

Mentoring Work - Strategies
  • Be Available as a Counselor - give time and
    listen create or take advantage of teaching
    opportunities share stories introduce to
  • Provide Support of Childs Work - recognize a
    childs work and express appreciation for efforts.

Development Work - Strategies
  • Provide Physical Assistance Emotional Support -
    when fatigued, ill, troubled, under pressure -
    kids need support.
  • Mentally and Emotionally Connect with Childs
    Wants/Needs - each child values different things,
    try to understand what is important to them
    (love currency)

Recreation Work - Strategies
  • PLAY TOGETHER!! - Dads excel at this, the most
    under-rated but important aspect of parenting.
    Builds the emotional bank account.
  • Challenge Your Childs Abilities - Dads can teach
    independence and risk-taking encourage
    initiative provide opportunities to grow.

Stewardship Work - Strategies
  • Create Opportunities for Children - Are you
    creative in your participation? Do you help your
    child experience the world?
  • Work Hard and Provide Economically
  • Sacrifice Time, Energy, or Personal Effort for
    Children - being a parent is not always easy,
    give of self.

Spiritual Work - Strategies
  • Affirm Confidence in Your Children
  • Discuss Personal Values - requires consistent
    emphasis and repetition
  • Model Good Behavior - Children practice a Do as
    I do approach, not Do as I say
  • Practice Spiritual Exercises - Children learn
    spiritual practices at home, prayer, worship,

Ethical Work - Commitments
  • Commit to the well-being and future of your
  • Choose to actively make good parenting a priority
    in your life and give it time and attention.
  • Continue to be an enduring presence in your
    childs life for good and guidance.

Section 4 - What Can We Do to Encourage
Responsible Fathering?
Six Keys to Building Leadership Capacity to
Promote Responsible Fatherhood
  • Begin with a Willingness to Understand
  • Assess Stakeholder Interest
  • Develop Productive Community Partnerships
  • Define and Implement Strategies to Accomplish
    Your Goals
  • Provide Resources and Training
  • Deliver Your Message Again and Again! And
    Evaluate Your Outcomes

Key 1 Begin with a Willingness to Understand
  • What does research and public dialogue tell you
    about the issue?
  • What do we know about the issue of father absence
    and father involvement?
  • What is the attitude of potential communities of
    interest toward the issue of father involvement?

Supporting Responsible Fatherhood
  • Increase public awareness about responsible
  • Prevent too-early or unwanted fatherhood
  • Promote fathers ability to contribute to their
    childrens economic security
  • Encourage fathers to be care givers and nurturers
    of their children
  • Build community and state leadership capacity
    around a fatherhood agenda

Key 2 Assess Stakeholder Interest
  • What individuals or community groups might have
    an interest in the issue?
  • What level of interest exists among individuals
    or community groups about the issue?
  • What particular areas of interest regarding
    father involvement exist among individuals or
    communities of interest?

Sample Focus Topics
  • Working with Fathers in Early Childhood Settings
  • Working with Unmarried Teen Fathers
  • Working with Fathers and Policy Issues
  • Working with Fathers in Low-Income Settings
  • Fathers of Color
  • Fathers as Parents Ideas and Insights
  • Working with Fathers in Social Service Settings

Discussion Questions
  • 1 Goals for Father Involvement What would you
    like to accomplish in this area? How would you
    like to see fathers involved?
  • 2 Barriers and Challenges to Father Involvement
    What are significant barriers or challenges to
    fathers involvement in this setting? How can
    they be addressed?

Discussion Questions
  • 3 Needs and Resources Regarding Father
    Involvement What needs do you have in this
    setting related to enhancing father involvement?
    What resources are most valuable or needed for
    you in this setting?
  • 4 Strategies and Recommendations What
    specific strategies and recommendations do you
    suggest for enhancing father involvement in this

Key 3 Develop Productive Community Partnerships
  • What individuals or community partners would like
    to make a difference on this issue?
  • How can you work together in specific ways to
    advance the cause of father involvement and
    family well-being?
  • Can you work with partners at the local level?
    State level? National level?

National DFI Partner The National Fatherhood
  • Dakota Fatherhood Summit II Attendance and
    participation of Chris Brown, NFI State and Local
    Initiative VP, and Charles Stewart, Dir. of
    program for incarcerated fathers
  • Provide training and resources in the region on
    development of fatherhood initiative, local
    programs, etc.

State DFI Partner The State Head Start
Collaboration Office
  • Co-Sponsor of all fatherhood summits
  • National mandate to focus on father involvement
  • Funding partner to develop resources and training
    specific to father involvement in Head Start
  • Dakota Father-Friendly Assessment Project in Head
    Start research project with surveys, focus
    groups of all HS staff in ND/SD

Local DFI Partner The Sioux Falls Community
  • Interest in community-specific father involvement
  • Funding partner for a Rapid Ethnographic
    Assessment about father involvement with
    community leaders in Sioux Falls area
  • Sioux Falls, SD Skyforce pro basketball team
    sponsored community night for fathers and their
    children, 2000 attended with the promotion
    (Krispy Kreme partner also)

Key 4 Define Strategies to Accomplish Your Goals
  • What mechanisms will serve you best in
    accomplishing the goals of your specific family
    strengthening effort?

Key 5 Provide Resources and Training to Further
  • What are key concerns that need to be addressed
    in working on this issue?
  • What particular barriers exist to helping fathers
    be more involved and responsible?
  • What particular resources would be useful to
    promote father involvement? What is lacking?
  • What particular training is needed or desired by
    those who can influence fathers?

Key 6 Measuring Outcomes and Progress
  • We Believe . . .
  • If the Staff Dont Believe in It, Then It Will
    Not Happen
  • If You Dont Know What the Staff Believe, You
    Wont Know How to Improve
  • Assessment and Training are Critical to Father
    Involvement in Any Setting that Serves Children
    and Families

Measuring Outcomes Progress
  • Recommended measurement strategy
  • Develop tool
  • Acquire baseline data
  • Provide training, resources, and support
  • Conduct follow-up assessments annually
  • Will measure outcomes progress
  • Offers key training focus for directors/admin.
  • Will provide staff with specific insights

The Dakota Father-Friendly Assessment (DFFA) for
Head Start/Early Head Start - ORIGINS
  • Funding partnership with Head Start state offices
    in ND SD to develop a research-based, empirical
    assessment tool to use with staff in Head Start
    and Early Head Start
  • This assessment approach combines a survey on
    father involvement attitudes and behaviors with a
    staff focus group on attitudes, barriers and
    training needs related to father involvement

Section 5 - How Do We Reach Fathers?
  • Fathers appear to be more difficult to reach,
    more cautious about the goals and values of
    intervention programs, more private in their
    personal change efforts, and have fewer support
    systems for positive change. . . . Practitioners
    may need to break some molds of traditional
    approaches if they are to succeed in their
    efforts to help fathers.
  • - Hawkins Fagan, 2001

How Do We Provide Parenting Information?
  • Parenting classes
  • Books/literature on parenting
  • Media messages about parenting
  • Parental home visits
  • Visits with professionals
  • Parenting newsletters

Best Practices 1 Promote Awareness of
Educational Resources
  • Identify father figures in the childs life to be
    targeted for outreach or involvement
  • Send information directly and invite them to
    participate involve children and significant
    others in the invitation
  • Provide plenty of time ahead of the opportunity
    so schedule adjustments can be made

Best Practices 2 Utilize a Strength-Based
Approach with Men
  • Begin with the assumption that most men love
    their children and wish to be good parents
  • Set a high standard of expectations for
    motivation and behavior and encourage fathers to
    reach for it
  • Work to identify fathers interests and
    capacities and develop program resources and
    offerings based on them

Best Practices 3 Define a Clear, Male-Friendly
Focus for Efforts
  • Establish a clear and inclusive emphasis on
    fathers and their involvement - be sensitive to
  • Focus on activities and interaction with
    children, not just discussion and support

Best Practices 4 Target Barriers and Reach Men
Where They Are
  • Be aware of time or work-related constraints that
    may limit involvement in parenting programs
    adjust as possible
  • Reach out to men at work sites, on the Internet,
    in their homes
  • Extend this idea reach men where their children
    are help them be comfortable with children

Best Practices 5 Invite and Educate Women to
Provide Support
  • If you want fathers to matter, mothers and other
    women must matter, too they all influence the
    support setting for fathers and children
  • Work to identify areas of concern and provide
    education and discussion to resolve any issues
    regarding support
  • In any effort, create an ongoing dialogue to
    receive input and feedback

Best Practices 6 Examine Your Assumptions
about Fathers and Involvement
  • What is your view of mens parenting
    capabilities? Are mothers the gold standard
    do men feel they are valued for their
    contributions or patterns?
  • What is assumed about motivation level? About
  • A sex role change operation is neither appealing
    to most fathers nor respectful of their lives,
    experiences, and skills.

Best Practices 6 Continued
  • A deficiency or capability perspective and
  • The good parent mold or parenting as
    developmental journey?
  • Fathers as uninterested and unwilling or caring
    and committed?
  • Do you create barriers or lower them?
  • Narrow or broad definition of parental care and

Barriers to Father Involvement
  • Work Stress - heightens provider role
  • Relationship Conflict - diminishes male
    motivation to engage
  • Time/Logistics - taking time out, conflicts,
    transportation child care
  • Personal Attitudes - male pride may feel parent
    ed. only for inadequate parents
  • Program Design

Father Involvement Style
  • Goal - Focus on creating a close relationship
    w/child, interaction
  • Socialization - Men less socialized to child
    development and family life skills
  • Interaction - Fathers more physical, tactile,
    arousing, active, assertive - foster
    independence, risk
  • Communication - sharing success stories

Program Design and Father Involvement
  • Content, Format, Delivery - Plan
  • Educator - inclusive, involvement of male
    facilitator invites comfort level
  • Location - reach men where they are - workplace,
    church, home, email
  • Marketing - directly to men, their issues
  • Format - activity-based, father-friendly
  • Content - what do fathers want?

Father Involvement Resource - HHS Initiative
  • HHS Fatherhood Initiative - Special initiative to
    support and strengthen the roles of fathers in
    families, across many programs (TANF, Head Start,
    Child Welfare, etc.)
  • http//www.fatherhood.hhs.gov/

Resources Fathers and Child Welfare
  • Summer 2002 Focus Issue Father Involvement
    Best Practice, Next Practice National Child
    Welfare Resource Center
  • http//www.hunter.cuny.edu/socwork/nrcfcpp/downloa

Father Involvement Resource - National Fatherhood
  • National Fatherhood Initiative - Non-profit
    effort to improve well-being of children by
    strengthening father involvement
  • http//www.fatherhood.org/

Father Involvement Resource - The Fatherhood
  • The Fatherhood Project - Long-term program by
    Families and Work Institute to focus on father
    involvement in multiple contexts
  • http//www.fatherhoodproject.org/

For further information on fatherhood or related
issues, contact
  • Dr. Sean E. Brotherson
  • North Dakota State University
  • Fargo, ND
  • EM sean.brotherson_at_ndsu.edu
  • PH 701.231.6143
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