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Mel Gravely

Using Community Partnerships to Enhance Father Engagement

If you’re not currently reading the Fatherhood Connection e-newsletter and webinar series from ECLKC, we highly recommend that you make a commitment to read it and share it with other staff. The Office of Head Start has made it clear over and over that engaging families in the education of children – whether mothers, fathers, grandparents, or caregivers – is one of the most important goals of Head Start.

Fatherhood Head Start Community Partnerships

But as we know, engaging fathers may take different strategies than engaging mothers. That’s why it’s important to continue to refresh staff and refer back to the variety of training materials on fatherhood and father engagement throughout the year.

Earlier this year, we posted a blog “What is your plan to engage fathers in Head Start?,” which outlined some of the simple strategies you should be doing in your everyday work to engage fathers, such as including fathers in communications and connecting fathers with each other.

This month’s email from Fatherhood Connection focused on leveraging community partnerships to support fathers and help them meet their goals, for themselves and their families.

Community partnerships allow Head Start agencies to vastly increase the available services to families without bringing on additional staff and costs. By connecting families with local service providers, Head Start can help families with areas such as job training, transportation, medical costs, and housing. For fathers, these services can fill important gaps that may be preventing them from taking a more active role in their children’s lives.

So to better serve fathers, and therefore children, here are some tips to use when leveraging community partnerships in your program.

Educate Fathers on Navigating Social Services

Fathers don’t always have experience in navigating and negotiating social services systems. If a child is in Head Start, statistically it’s more likely that the mother (or other female caregiver) enrolled them. So the mother already has some experience in identifying useful social programs and applying for them.

The same isn’t always true about fathers. Be careful not to send him blindly into a partner program without some sort of coaching ahead of time on what to expect and how to navigate the process. If he’s apprehensive, it’s more likely that he won’t show up at all.

Communicate with your Community Partners

Be sure to inform the community partner agency of what you know about the father’s goals and intentions so that they’ll be more prepared to serve him when he shows up. Of course, you should keep sensitive personal details confidential, but preparing the partner agency in advance can help them save time and serve all individuals more efficiently.

Remember, Head Start and community partners often have overlapping missions. Sharing information openly is one of the best ways we can all fulfill those missions.

Design Practice Scenarios

The Fatherhood Connection email shows the importance of partnership services in the form of a hypothetical dialogue between a staff member and father. This practice scenario focuses specifically on a workforce development partnership, a large focus of father engagement initiatives. We encourage you to take a look at this scenario and design similar scenarios to practice with staff.

Interview All Parents During Enrollment & Goal-Setting

In one of the webinars from the Fatherhood Connection series, presenters conducted a poll with attendees: What is your primary source of information about the strengths and needs of fathers? Here were their answers:

Mothers – 38.9 %
Goal-setting process – 23.7 %
Enrollment forms – 15.1%
Fathers themselves – 14.5%
Other – 7.8%

While this was just an informal poll and not a scientific study, the results probably aren’t surprising. Mothers are often the ones describing the goals of fathers directly to parent engagement staff. Much more rarely are staff hearing from fathers. My advice here is to listen to mothers, but don’t rely solely on their interpretation of a father’s goals. Make sure to interview all family members before you devise a plan and begin connecting families with partner resources. If you can’t interview fathers in person, then do it on the phone or even over email if necessary.

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