Centerstone to support fatherhood initiative

One of the state’s largest providers of mental health and addiction services has received a $9.7 million federal grant to launch a new program to improve parenting skills of fathers in Bartholomew and five other Indiana counties.

Next month, Centerstone will launch POPS, an acronym for Providing Opportunities for Parental Success, in part to a grant from the Administration for Children and Families, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The POPS program is aimed at identifying barriers that prevent fathers from being involved in their children’s lives and finding ways to overcome such barriers, Centerstone officials said.

The new program will be targeting biological fathers, stepfathers and expectant fathers in Bartholomew, Brown, Lawrence, Monroe, Morgan and Owen counties, said Richard Kosmala, program manager in Bloomington.

Special consideration will be given to fathers who are past or present members of the military, fathers between the ages of 16 and 24 and at-risk fathers who are low-income or eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or those involved with the criminal justice system.

Centerstone identified a gap in services for fatherhood and in providing parenting skills for fathers, Kosmala said.

Centerstone provides of community-based behavioral health care, offering mental health services and substance abuse treatment.

With the federal grant, the number of clients Centerstone can serve will expand, as the grant does not require that fathers have mental health issues or an addiction in order to qualify for the center’s services, he said.

Parental involvement is linked to a decrease in negative behaviors in children, and children without involved fathers or who live apart from them are nearly twice as likely to drop out of school or abuse drugs and alcohol, Centerstone officials said.

The goal of the POPS program is to help children by helping fathers to become better parents, partners and providers and to create healthier environments for their children, Kosmala said.

The fatherhood initiative could also have another important benefit, Monroe County Prosecutor Chris Gaal said.

“Research from places where fatherhood initiatives have been tried has shown important benefits for the child’s relationship with their father and also a significant increase in child support payments,” Gaal said.

The program will focus on removing three major barriers fathers experience when trying to improve their relationship with their children, Kosmala said.

The first is economic — involving child support issues and employment, Kosmala said. A group class will be offered to teach skills to successfully obtain employment and one-on-one sessions with an employment coach will also be offered. The goal is to help fathers join or rejoin the job market to support their families.

The second is parenting skills — filling in the gaps for fathers who did not have appropriate parenting modeled to them or perhaps didn’t have parenting at all, Kosmala said.

The third is working on the relationship between the child’s mother and father, with an emphasis on family wellness and basic life skills.

The POPS program hopes to serve a minimum of 25 fathers in its first year, 100 in its second year, and 125 every year in years three through five so that at least 500 fathers in the six-county area receive services.

However, that’s just a minimum and the program hopes to serve more than that, Kosmala said.

Centerstone is reaching out to its own community partners, social service agencies, probation departments, child support courts, Work One and the Indiana Department of Correction to find clients who might benefit from the program, Kosmala said.

One of the areas where services may be offered in Bartholomew County is the county jail, he said. Part of the focus is to go where the father is to provide help and eliminate barriers such as transportation, he said.

Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers said the fatherhood initiative is one of several programs that could be coming to the jail and he is supportive of Centerstone’s efforts.

Some inmates who find themselves in jail are good people and have made mistakes, Myers said. And with state laws changing to require county jails to house inmates who are serving sentences for Level 6 felony offenses, the chance to offer programming for rehabilitation is important, he said.

One drawback in offering programming for jail inmates is that many are only in jail for a short time, often fewer than 90 days, which means inmates don’t finish the programming that is offered before leaving the jail.

“We can start the programming in jail, but once they’ve served their sentence, we need to think about how we are holding them accountable to finish the program,” Myers said. “When they’re released, there’s no accountability to continue. We may need to do that through the courts with probation or as a part of their sentence.”

How to participate

Centerstone’s program for fathers will begin July 1. Those interested in participating may contact Lauryn Kramer-Raymond at 812-318-7414 or by emailing lauryn.kramer@centerstone.org.

About the program

Centerstone has received a $9.7 million grant from the federal Administration for Children and Families to launch a new program to address the needs of at least 500 fathers in Bartholomew, Brown, Lawrence, Monroe, Morgan and Owen counties.

The program targets biological fathers, stepfathers and expectant fathers with special consideration being given to fathers who are past and present members of the military, young fathers between the ages of 16 and 24 and at-risk fathers who are low-income or involved in the criminal justice system.

For more information about Centerstone or its programs, call 800-344-8802 or visit centerstone.org.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.