Fathers Advisory Council Contributes to Program Development By Jayde Bennett, Research Intern

Author: CFFPP . Date: September 7, 2012

A recent article highlights the importance of noncustodial fathers contributing their perspectives to the design of programs that will serve other fathers like themselves. “Fatherhood Intervention Development in Collaboration With African American Non-Resident Fathers,” by Wrenetha Julion, et al., was published in the online version of Research in Nursing & Health. The article states that “because interventions developed in partnership with African American fathers not residing with their children are virtually nonexistent, existing interventions fail to address the multiple factors that constrain these fathers’ positive involvement with their children.” Moreover, “existing programs do not address the unique needs of African American fathers who are unmarried, no longer romantically involved with their children’s mothers, and non-resident.”

Lack of proximity to their children, societal and contextual barriers, lack of personal and interpersonal resources, and negative societal portrayals of “deadbeat dads” are a few of the many factors that impede African American fathers’ involvement with their children. In an effort to highlight the importance of African American noncustodial fathers’ input in the development of fatherhood intervention programs, Wrenetha A. Julion, Susan M. Breitenstein, and Donald Waddell sought to “engage community members in a Fathers’ Advisory Council to develop an intervention to help fathers surmount constraints to involvement with their children.” The Fathers Advisory Council participated in a series of 13 focus groups in which they “reviewed, gave meaning to, refined, and extended the findings from previous meetings in order to facilitate the design of a linguistically, culturally, and contextually appropriate fatherhood intervention.”

Because of how these federal incentive payments are calculated, it may be possible to favorably advocate for noncustodial parents in the following circumstances:

The program developed, Building Bridges to Fatherhood, “aimed at increasing fathers’ involvement with their preschool aged children (2-5 years), improving mother father relationships, and improving both father and child outcomes.” The program was divided into three core units, as agreed upon by the Fathers Advisory Council: “(a) Fatherhood, aimed at bolstering fathers’ knowledge and confidence; (b) Communication, aimed at helping fathers effectively interact with their children’s co-parent; and (c) Parenting, focused on nurturing and guiding young.”

Fathers Advisory Council members also had the opportunity to share their own struggles and challenges as noncustodial African American fathers. Some individuals described not wanting to be seen as a “good-time daddy”—which they defined as the type of father that only engages in “‘fun activities’ with his children and ‘seldom provides discipline and guidance’”—while others “expressed disdain with the concept of ‘time-outs,’” as they considered this discipline style to be “based upon White middle class parenting practices” and thus irrelevant to African American fathers.

The Council members agreed that take-home handouts would be a helpful resource for fathers involved in the program to share with other people who also care for their children, such as mothers and family relatives. Council members said that weekly practice assignments would be helpful in encouraging individuals to share their experiences and what they learned from their time with their children. The Council members were also “particularly proud of a handout that was developed to portray ‘keeping your cool,’” which meant that “despite being angry and frustrated with their children’s mothers, fathers needed to be able to remain calm so that they did not jeopardize their opportunities to spend time with their children.”

In addition, Fathers Advisory Council members agreed that the intervention program should “address the challenges of reestablishing relationships with children after release from correctional settings.”

When asked to reflect on their participation in the development of a program for African American fathers, Council members touched upon three major themes: (1) Personal benefit; (2) a sense of altruism they felt in helping others like themselves; and (3) valuing group meetings as a “viable means of giving and receiving support” from others with similar concerns.

The lessons learned through these focus groups provide valuable insights into the view of noncustodial African American fathers that extend “beyond stereotypical depictions of uninvolved, uninterested, financially negligent, and selfish men.” The men involved in the Fathers Advisory Council were dedicated to helping others like themselves. The input and involvement of Council members illustrate the importance of collaboration with members of the intended audience, as their contributions proved invaluable to the research and overall program development. The Building Bridges to Fatherhood program has been used in a small pilot study for testing for future acceptance and feasibility. Once the efficacy and sustainability of the program is established, the Building Bridges to Fatherhood intervention program will be able to address the needs of African American noncustodial fathers in a more expansive manner.

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