EVERY DAY IS FATHER’S DAY: Local organizations hope to restart programs for dads this fall

Jeremy Kimball, at the head of the conference table, starts the discussion for the evening with the dads during the Fatherhood Initiative meeting at Human Services Inc. Thursday, April 18, 2019. Carla Clark | For The Republic Carla Clark | For The Republic

Local organizations in Bartholomew County are hopeful they can restart in-person programming aimed at helping dads bond with their children and learn about parenting after the pandemic forced many of these programs to be suspended, including one that had been offered in the community for years.

The programs — Daddy 101 and Fatherhood Night — taught fathers, among other things, about parenting, safe sleep environments, life skills and how to bond with their children — and each other.

After more than a year without these programs meeting in-person due to the pandemic, local organizations are hoping to bring them back in the fall.

In early 2020, Healthy Communities at Columbus Regional Health had just started a monthly class for new dads — Daddy 101 — in partnership with the Columbus Police Department.

Organizers were pleased with attendance at the first class, with six new dads showing up to learn about safe sleep environments, signs of postpartum depression and anxiety in their partners, adverse childhood events, basic infant care, car seats and the five P’s of fatherhood — be a good partner, protector, provider, positive role model and pal.

“And then COVID happened,” said Patty Pigman, fetal and infant mortality review coordinator and IMPACT action team leader at Healthy Communities.

Pigman said she and her team tried pivot online during the pandemic, but “people weren’t really big on doing that class virtually.” Outreach to dads also was a struggle, but efforts were still made to reach them at pediatric offices, Columbus Regional Hospital’s birthing center and on social media.

“We are hopeful to get (Daddy 101) back in-person this fall but haven’t worked out what that’s going to look like,” Pigman said.

But that wasn’t the only local program for dads that has fallen by the wayside over the past year.

Just before the pandemic, optimism was running high at Head Start in Bartholomew County after officials there had just opened up one of its core programs for dads and other father figures to the public, instead of only those who were involved with Head Start programming.

The monthly program, Fatherhood Night, was a free monthly get-together to help father figures get involved in their children’s lives, learn life skills and bond with their children, with as many as 15 to 20 dads showing up in Bartholomew and Johnson counties.

But not long after eligibility was broadened, the program was suspended as COVID-19 infections swept across the state and community, said Cassie Hawkins, program health specialist at Head Start, who previously helped with Fatherhood Night for five years.

Now Hawkins said she is looking for a new fatherhood coordinator to run the program, but “there’s just not a lot out there.”

“We’re hoping that we’re going to be able to offer that in-person starting again in the fall,” Hawkins said.

Typically, Fatherhood Nights would start with a family-style meal, followed by a craft, like tie-dying a T-shirt or building a race car.

After the craft, the children play under the supervision of Head Start teachers while the men meet as a group to talk about men’s issues and to learn more about parenting and life skills.

Fatherhood Night was sponsored by Human Services Inc. using curriculum from the National Fatherhood Initiative’s 24/7 Dad program, which seeks to help men develop the attitudes and skills needed to be better dads. The National Fatherhood Initiative is a Maryland-based non-profit.

Cassie said the program has been “extremely important” for the father figures and children who were participating.

“What we’ve noticed is that a lot of dads don’t get opportunities to have one-on-one time with their children for various reasons,” Hawkins said. “Maybe they work third shift or they come from a separated family. Our fatherhood engagement nights kind of give them those opportunities to have one-on-one time with their child to do an uninterrupted activity and to have each other’s attention one on one to build those connections.”

The efforts to resume in-person programming for dads has shed light on the toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on some social and public health programs in Bartholomew County and the importance of father figures in a child’s life.

Fatherhood in America has changed over the past few decades, The Associated Press reported. Dads today are more involved in every aspect of child care, from diaper-changing to helping with homework.

And while there are more single moms than ever, kids raised by two parents have a big advantage over kids from single-parent homes, according to wire reports.

“A vast amount of research supports that young people who experience strong developmental relationships with at least one supportive parent, caregiver or other safe adult are more likely to show positive development in areas like social-emotional well-being, educational success and reduced engagement in risky behaviors,” said Heather Carson, director of the Council for Youth Development Bartholomew County. “While it is essential that young people have both female and male role models in their lives, research focused specifically on the engagement level of fathers suggests that involved fatherhood is linked to better youth outcomes, including higher self-esteem, better grades and pro-social behavior.”

Carson said that a number of local organizations have started scheduling parenting programs for adults this fall, including Turning Point Domestic Violence Services, Purdue Extension, Family Service Inc., Foundation For and United Way of Bartholomew County agencies.

The Council for Youth Development Bartholomew County also provides resources for all parenting adults, Carson said.

But more local programming focused on dads could be on the horizon.

“There is a growing interest in offering more programming specifically for dads,” Carson said.

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To learn more about the National Fatherhood Initiative, visit https://www.fatherhood.org/.