Engaging Fathers, Building Healthy Families: Part 1

Post by Omega Tandy

As a part of Healthy Families Indiana, we recognize the importance of fatherhood, and deal closely with fatherless families. As a child abuse and neglect prevention program, we especially take notice of the effects of fatherless homes as it relates to child abuse. Compared to living with both parents, living in a single-parent home doubles the risk that a child will suffer physical, emotional, or educational neglect. The overall rate of child abuse and neglect in single-parent households is 27.3 children per 1,000, whereas the rate of overall maltreatment in two-parent households is 15.5 per 1,000. (U.S. Census/U.S. Department of Health)

In response to these statistics, we continue to recruit male home visitors. Alan Goffinski, our current male home visitor, has committed to finding new ways to focus our program for fathers, and “de-genderize” our approach. He challenges us to have a less female biased view on child abuse prevention. He is assisting us in increasing our overall knowledge on the unique challenges of fathers, and the specific barriers men face. It is very important to have more male home visitors; as a result, some women will experience their first positive male relationship. Fathers will have the opportunity to be culturally represented as a part of the program; which increases rapport building and establishing trusting relationships. Alan Goffinski agreed to be interviewed about his experiences so far with the Healthy Families Program:

What do you see as your mission/role as being the only male home visitor at Marion I, Healthy Families?

I view my role to be much the same as other Family Support Specialists.  We all are doing our best to connect to individual families in a significant and holistic way that allows us to be a positive force affecting their health and well-being physically, emotionally, and mentally. As a male FSS, I get the unique honor of connecting to many young men and walking with them into a new phase of life, fatherhood.  Fatherhood is still significantly under-appreciated and undervalued thing for many of the populations that we serve.  I get to be a positive voice and example in a culture that still has a lot to learn about supporting men and encouraging their involvement in the lives of their children.  Beyond that, I also get to serve as a voice among my peers, offering insight into how to best engage new fathers.  After all, the program is called “Healthy Families” not “Healthy Mom and Baby.”

What is the biggest barrier you face in being a male home visitor?

There are definitely some preconceived notions among the population we serve as to what their home visitor will be like.  Much of society thinks that raising children is a woman’s job!  For those in the program who are open to having a male caseworker, it usually turns out to be a very good thing for the family.

What do you find to be the greatest barrier for the fathers you serve?

I come across fathers time and time again that feel they are not able to adequately support their families because of legal problems.  I have met with fathers who have difficulty getting a job because of a felony resulting from a high school fight they were mixed up in a half decade ago. Many young men are not aware that there are legal resources available to them.  Additionally, connecting fathers with employers willing to hire individuals with felonies on their record is crucial.  Beyond all of that, it is important to remind dads that there is more to fatherhood than providing financially.  Most important is the realization that their children need parents that they can rely on and will be a consistent and positive presence in their lives.

What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced in working with fathers?

The biggest challenge working with fathers is how young men view themselves and their role as a father.  Young men have the odds stacked against them.  For starters, many young men are falling into a generational pattern of being emotionally and physically distant from their children.  We’ve all heard the phrase, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  The reality is, every day I meet with fathers who were never fathered.  Therefore, they have little idea how to be a good father. Try to think of the last time you saw a positive father figure in media.  The truth is, it is far easier to spot the bumbling, emotionally distant, pseudo-dad.  As a male caseworker, I find my biggest hurdle is convincing dads that it is a good thing to crawl around on the floor and baby talk with their child, to be emotionally invested, and to embrace what it really means to be a daddy!

For part two of Alan’s interview, check out the blog this Thursday! 

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