Although the law officially starts with the word “maternal,” it’s understood that fathers play a critical role in the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program. The following examples showcase the roles dads play in MIECHV implementation:
Florida’s MIECHV program, Healthy Families Florida, and Florida Healthy Start are working together to identify and address the challenges present in each of the programs in an effort to increase father engagement in home visiting services. As part of that effort, these organizations have partnered with the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) to assist them in developing a plan to help make this happen. The next step in the process is an assessment called the Father Friendly Check-Up (FFCU), which will be completed by select staff from local programs. The results of the FFCU will measure how well each of the sites engages fathers in programs; it will also try to measure the culture in each site and measure capacity for effectively engaging fathers. Following distribution of the results, NFI will conduct a webinar to go over strategies the sites can use to improve father engagement.
The Fatherhood Engagement Advisory Group will continue to meet regularly to discuss how improvements can be made statewide. They are currently working to develop a resource guide of existing services for fathers, so local sites can partner with existing initiatives. The advisory group will also work with model developers to update materials and supplement existing curricula. Parents As Teachers (PAT), for example, has a Fatherhood Toolkit that is available for use by any home visiting program.
Georgia hosts an Engaging Fathers webinar which is also a required training for all home visitors and supervisors. Key topic areas include the importance of involvement and engagement of dads; research on the benefits of fathers’ engagement for dad, mom and child; how to support dads; barriers to fathering and how to overcome those barriers; and cultural beliefs about what it means to be a dad. Georgia also hosted an Engaging Fathers workshop track at the 2016 Home Visiting Institute, which focused on the Dad2K program and the broader importance of engaging fathers in home visiting programs. Lessons learned in father-focused programming were shared to help home visitors more effectively engage dads in their work.
Since its inception, Healthy Families Massachusetts (HFM) has focused on including fathers in home visiting. This dedicated effort includes training all staff in the importance of fathers in home visiting; program eligibility for first time mothers and fathers as primary participants; opening group participation to fathers/co-parenting partners; and including participation of fathers/co-parents in home visits as a program performance measure (65 percent of participants have at least one visit with a co-parent present each year s/he is enrolled). In the last fiscal year, 4 percent of the program primary participants were fathers, and 51 percent of all participants who received at least one home visit had at least one home visit with a co-parent. HFM recently piloted two group models to promote co-parenting: Supporting Father Involvement and Choices in Childbirth and Co-parenting, which engage couples in communication, relationship, and co-parenting skills. The randomized controlled trial evaluation of HFM found that mothers were more likely to transition from unstable relationships to supportive, residential partnerships with the father of the baby that included higher levels of father involvement.
Texas has done significant work to integrate fatherhood initiatives into home visiting programs. From 2013–2014, all MIECHV-funded programs were required to include a fatherhood component in their programming. Texas provided training through the National Fatherhood Initiative and Strong Fathers-Strong Families to help home visitors engage fathers, and address some of the barriers to father participation. The majority of the state’s MIECHV-funded programs, and a significant number of state-funded home visiting programs, continue to include a strong fatherhood component. Fatherhood curricula utilized to compliment the array of evidence-based home visiting services provided include 24/7 Dads, Inside Out Dads, Nurturing Fathers and Love Notes. Additionally, many have a dedicated fatherhood specialist to expand father/father figure engagement in the home visiting work. Texas Home Visiting utilized MIECHV funds to evaluate the benefit of father inclusion in home visiting, identify the most effective ways to engage fathers, and determine how father engagement positively influences family retention in home visiting. Results indicated that mothers and fathers have a strong desire for fathers to be involved; fathers are likely to engage if asked by the home visitor; and father involvement in as few as one home visit increased family retention in the program overall. The state also utilizes Community Based Child Abuse Prevention Funds to support four programs across the state that are solely focused on fathers and that include home visiting as a family option where appropriate.
Wisconsin uses MIECHV funds to support an evidence-based home visiting program in the Milwaukee Health Department (MHD) targeted to fathers called the Direct Assistance to Dads (DAD) Project. The DAD Project serves fathers in Milwaukee who are either expecting a child or have a child under the age of 18 months. MHD has developed strategic community partnerships that target clients in communities with high rates of infant mortality and racial disparities in birth outcomes, lower income and educational attainment, and relatively high male unemployment and incarceration. The DAD Project utilizes the Parents as Teachers (PAT) model, and currently uses the PAT curriculum as well as the 24/7 Dad curriculum. The DAD Project staff are father involvement specialists who engage with expectant or parenting fathers, as well as a public health social worker who has a partial caseload and supports the father engagement specialists in addressing the psychosocial needs of their clients. The state estimates the DAD Project will serve 50 families in the current fiscal year.
Another Wisconsin program in Green Bay has a fatherhood specialist on staff who accompanies home visitors when the father is going to be present. In addition to doing home visits (both with other home visitors or on his own), the “Dad-guy” offers father-specific group parenting support through education groups and family activities. He’s also been working with the county’s child support agency on a demonstration project to help non-custodial dads enhance their relationships with their kids and improve their economic self-sufficiency. The Green Bay program supervisor is spearheading an effort to develop a “fatherhood network” among home visiting and family support programs across the state.