Many fathers do not come readily to fatherhood programs. Often, fathers join programs because they are being required to do so through court proceedings or as part of their re-entry plan. Part of case work is actively breaking past these perceptions of distrust and resistance. The key to this work is forming genuine connections with the fathers you serve. These connections show fathers you are invested in helping them meet their goals, are empathetic to their circumstances, operate non-judgmentally, respect them, and acknowledge their positive attributes. On this page, we provide a list of do’s and don’ts for making effective connections and answer frequently asked questions.
Tips & Best Practices
- Use recruiters with cultural or ethnic backgrounds like those of the participants you are targeting. Although any recruiter can be effective, veteran practitioners find that fathers are more likely to join a program when recruited by someone who is culturally, racially, or linguistically similar.
- Hire recruitment staff who can forge connections based on mutual respect and caring. When asked about factors that kept them involved with a program, many successful graduates talk about the love they felt from program staff. Many men who participate in fatherhood programs have not had consistent support in their lives.
- Register and involve men in the program immediately after they express interest as they are then more likely to become active participants.
- Place reminder calls for parenting classes, activities, and other program components.
- Use words such as “class” or “program” that might have negative connotations for men with bad experiences in school or other social service programs.
- Make generic statements such as “we can make you a better father,” which suggests a negative perspective of staff before getting to know a father and his story.
- Give up. Being persuasive and persistent can ultimately break through resistance from potential participants by showing that recruiters are unwilling to give up on them. Many fathers struggle to accept that program staff really see the best in them and want to help.
Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota partners with the education division of the South Dakota Department of Corrections to work with fathers who are scheduled for release in six months or less. The organization provides relationship, parenting, and economic stability services. One innovative feature of the program gives fathers the opportunity to create video diaries of themselves doing something special for their children, such as reading a book, reading a letter, or playing a musical instrument. The DVDs are then mailed home to their children. Transitional support is also available for newly released fathers as they reenter the community.
How long does it usually take to form a connection?
Everyone is different. Some fathers will be open and trusting right away and others might take months to feel comfortable sharing personal information. The key is to not give up. Offer consistent encouragement and support and allow dads to take their time.
What should the staff dress code be?
Some programs encourage recruiters to dress down for street recruitment. Others emphasize dressing professionally to establish credibility. Consider your target audience and the services you offer to decide which dress code may be best for your program.
Some of the fathers I serve missed several appointments. This is making it difficult to connect. What can I do?
Place reminder calls and send reminder text messages for parenting classes, activities, and other program components. Beyond serving as reminders, this contact shows dads you remember them personally.