What is your plan to engage fathers in Head Start?
We recently received a great newsletter from the National Center on Parent, Family and Community Engagement from their “Fatherhood Connection” initiative, in which they provided a year in review of the many strategies they talked about in 2018 to engage fathers in Head Start programs. The way we see it, it’s never a bad time to review your plan to engage fathers.
As we talk about frequently, parent engagement is a core mission of Head Start that was reaffirmed in the new Performance Standards, with the words “parent” and “family” mentioned hundreds of times each throughout the document. Unfortunately, the term “parent” here often defaults to the mother (or other female caregiver). While it is true that many children in Head Start are in single parent households headed by the mother, we cannot assume that is the default.
Here are some overall strategies presented in the email:
Invite fathers from day 1. It is our job to make sure that the father is invited and included in their child’s education from the very first day (hint: even pregnancy programs!) For example, if he has a separate mobile number or email, make sure to copy both parents on all communications. Don’t assume the mother will just share the notes with him. As we all know, life gets busy so make sure everyone is receiving the same messages.
Use active listening. Both fathers and mothers want what’s best for their children in the end, but not everyone might have the same ideas on how to achieve that. Understand where a father might be coming from and how it may differ from other family members. Acknowledge and respect each parent’s goals for their child.
Connect fathers with each other. This one seems self-explanatory, but also can be one of the most difficult. Sometimes, getting fathers to attend a single one-on-one meeting can be a challenge. Imagine trying to get several of them together on a semi-regular basis. It’s difficult, but worth it. The good news is that once you set up a framework and structure, it should become easier. This could include initiatives such as support groups, community partnerships, social media groups, resource guides, volunteering, or father-child social events.
Train your staff on father engagement. Lastly, has your program had formal training on engaging fathers? There are certainly a lot of self-directed learning resources out there, and you should always start there first (see: Head Start Father Engagement Birth to Five Programming Guide). But a formal training that gets everyone in a room together with active role-playing and back and forth Q&A can help cement those lessons. Contact The Gravely Group if you would like more information on our Parent Engagement training modules.
No matter what, we all agree that when both parents are engaged in a child’s education, the child will have better social and academic outcomes. So in order to fulfill our core mission, it is our duty to engage fathers. Even if it’s difficult.