Serving fathers is a collaborative process of assessment, planning, facilitation, care coordination, evaluation and advocacy for options and services to meet an individual's and family's comprehensive needs. For fatherhood programs, this means working to meet the comprehensive needs of fathers. These needs can include physical and mental health care, housing, access to education and training resources, and the skills to communicate in a healthy way with the mother(s) of their children. Often, these needs have a domino effect on each other. For example, if a father is experiencing severe depression and does not have access to mental health care, he is less likely to find and keep a job. If he is unemployed or underemployed, he is more likely to be homeless or housing insecure. For these reasons, it is important to make sure all dad’s needs are being met.
Program staff, particularly case managers, fill this unique role by assessing the types of care each dad needs, creating plans to meet those needs, and checking in with dads along the way to make sure they stay on track. One of the most effective ways case managers meet these needs is through one-to-one work. One-to-One work typically takes the form of individual, scheduled meetings. During these meetings, case workers typically have open-ended conversations with fathers to identify areas fathers may be experiencing challenges (barriers to employment, mental health disorders, custody battles, etc.). From there, case managers create a plan to help fathers meet their needs and assist in navigating relevant organizations and processes (job interviewing, healthcare systems, family courts, etc.).
Tips & Best Practices
- Listen and take cues. A father might speak about his need for a job to meet child support obligations. This is a cue for you to discuss how your fatherhood program can help him find and keep employment. Another father may express frustration about their relationships with the mothers of their children or the court system, which provides the opportunity to develop trust with fathers by listening to them carefully, empathizing with their situation, talking about co-parenting, and explaining how the program might be able to help them navigate the court system and improve their communication or presentation skills.
- Avoid jargon. Speak in plain language whenever possible. Do not make assumptions about participant’s educational background. Do make information easily understandable.
- Be aware of your own skills and program limitations. Sometimes you will not be able to address all your participant’s needs. Be honest when this happens. Overpromising what your program can deliver will lead to a loss of trust. Make referrals to agencies who can better meet these needs when necessary.
- Help fathers manage their emotions. Many men who come to fatherhood programs struggle with depression and low morale as a result of life experiences and current circumstances. They have often felt rejected and let down by various institutions and programs. Many have not had loving, actively involved fathers in their lives. Helping dads identify and manage their emotions―anger, resentment, disappointment―can be a key component of successful one-to-one contact.
- Have open conversations. Open ended discussions often play a large part in determining the full scope of services fathers need. These kinds of conversations help cover areas intake sheets may miss.
- Set goals. Develop a realistic plan stating the father’s short-term and long-term goals. These goals should be reviewed and updated frequently to document and encourage progress.
- Have regular one-to-one sessions. When first starting a new routine, many fathers struggle to stay on track. Court appearances, job loss, and financial strain add to this difficulty. During individual sessions case managers can show fathers how to create plans for crises when they occur. Regular sessions also show you are consistently available and invested in guiding fathers all the way through their journey.
How can I get the fathers I serve to trust me?
- Listen attentively
- Remain objective
- Offer words of encouragement often
What incentives can I use to draw fathers to my program?
Offer to help dads file taxes, search for employment and training opportunities, or address other immediate needs.
Some of the fathers I serve have a lot of work to do before they can achieve their goals. How do I prevent them from feeling overwhelmed or discouraged?
Take a step-by-step approach. Assign dads small tasks like writing a description of their general interests, preparing a list of jobs they have done, or practicing leaving a voice message to potential employers. These steps can help you assess their needs, help fathers set goals, and enable them to move forward.