Fatherhood Involvement Increases Positive Childhood Outcomes
The early childhood development approach seems simple – when a member of the family is absent, children miss out on key development milestones. Yet at the Fatherhood Solution Conference held by Children’s Institute’s Project Fatherhood last week, childhood experts gathered for the 12th year to discuss how fatherhood involvement could be increased across their field. As the point was brought up frequently throughout the day, fathers have long been undervalued by public and private institutions tasked with caring for at-risk families.
The conference, which was held inside the Westin Hotel near Los Angeles International Airport, brought together over 400 professionals that ranged from LA County Department of Children and Family Services staff to leaders and program participants in father-specific services. Keynote speakers included DCFS Deputy Director Angel Parks-Pyles, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Social Work Assistant Professor Dr. Tova Walsh, and Los Angeles City Council President Herb J. Wesson.
Dr. Walsh, who has spent more than a decade researching fathers and their impact on children, said many systems that support at-risk families have made it difficult for dads to stay involved. Whether during custody decisions or family therapy sessions, it is not uncommon for fathers to feel left out.
“We know that when fathers are included in positive ways, they will be associated with better outcomes in multiple areas,” Dr. Walsh said. “We need to support fathers and create programs that are thoughtfully designed with fathers at the center of them.”
Nationally, 17.8 million children, or roughly one in four kids, live without their dads. During her presentation, Dr. Walsh explained that when fathers are involved, children develop better socially, emotionally and mentally. Through high school, children with present fathers have better outcomes in school and lower rates of teen pregnancies.
Parks-Pyles, who spoke on behalf of DCFS director Bobby Cagle, highlighted many ways the department has partnered with Project Fatherhood to correct some of the gaps. This included specialized trainings with staff along with cofounding the Los Angeles Fatherhood Network, a collaboration that interfaces with 60-plus organizations to address barriers for father involvement. The broader partnership model between Project Fatherhood and DCFS is something Parks-Pyles noted is being replicated on a national level by other public child welfare agencies.
We need to support fathers and create programs that are thoughtfully designed with fathers at the center of them.Tova Walsh, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Social Work Assistant Professor
“Through training, every new social worker must be proficient with father engagement,” she said. “To date, Project Fatherhood, in partnership with our training division, has trained over 300 new hires.”
Keith Parker, Director of Project Fatherhood, has led the program since November 2018 and believes there is an immediate need to address the challenges fathers face. “The fatherhood conference is an opportunity to engage stakeholders across the fatherhood field and to recognize our work with fathers from all walks of life by sending one clear message that fatherhood involvement is shaping the next generation,” he said.
This year the conference honored 16 Project Fatherhood participants by inducting them into the Fatherhood Hall of Fame. Dr. Edward Berumen, Program Supervisor with Project Fatherhood, said the Hall of Fame recognizes fathers for their long-term participation in the program. To be eligible, fathers had to be currently active in Project Fatherhood and completed 100 group sessions over three years.
“We’re hoping as we move forward that more fathers will want to join,” Dr. Berumen said. “It’s been rewarding to see all of the hard work these men have done together.”
Hall of Famer Jaime, who has participated in Project Fatherhood for eight years, said many of the dads in the program never knew their own fathers. He said the program addressed the challenges they faced in their own childhoods to make them stronger parents. The award was an acknowledgement of just how far they had come.
“To be able to help our kids, we fathers need to be helped first,” he said.
Another Hall of Fame inductee, Evan, has been part of the program for six years and currently serves as a facilitator for weekly group discussions with dads. He said many of the fathers enter the program having lost custody of their kids and feel isolated and alone. The Hall of Fame represents the transformation that happens when dads receive the right support.
The fatherhood conference is an opportunity to engage stakeholders across the fatherhood field and to recognize our work with fathers from all walks of life by sending one clear message that fatherhood involvement is shaping the next generation.Keith Parker, Project Fatherhood Director
“It’s seeing guys come in broken and watching them create a bond with one another to become better dads,” he said. “There is no amount of money in the world that can beat the joy of watching this process up close.”
Wesson said that being a father is vastly more important than being Speaker of the Assembly or City Council President. As an African-American, he described the challenges of raising a son in a world where young men of color are frequently targeted by the police. He also talked about Camp Wesson, which takes 150 kids camping each summer.
“The most important thing to a child is to know you love them and approve of them,” he said.
Learn more about Project Fatherhood here.