With a mission to encourage emotional engagement in kids' lives, an MGH program offers underserved dads the skills they need for parenting success
BY JOAN GOODCHILD
According to the US Census Bureau, 23.6 percent of children in the United States lived in father-absent homes in 2014. Some research indicates the absence of a father in a child's life leads to poor outcomes, including one study that found individuals from father-absent homes are 279 percent more likely to carry guns and deal drugs than peers living with their fathers.
While the outcome from child to child is certainly individual and never based on one factor, it is statistics like these that prompted the creation of The Fatherhood Project, a non-profit program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The mission is to improve the health and well-being of children and families by empowering fathers to be knowledgeable, active, and emotionally engaged with their children.
Executive Director Dr. Raymond Levy, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, founded The Fatherhood Project to continue his clinical work, to develop programs that teach fathers key relationship skills to raise healthy children, and to educate parents and professionals about the critical role fathers play in children's lives.
"Fatherhood has always been central to my life," explained Levy. "I've always been interested in the topic of good fathering and wanted to pass down what I understood to be important lessons in being a good father."
The Fatherhood Project mainly works with underserved fathers, often in urban settings, with the philosophy that cities will grow and thrive more positively if fathers are engaged with their children, explained Levy. The program works to encourage fathers to be more emotionally engaged, with an active knowledge of their children's lives.
"With the success of the feminist movement, and with women now able to go to work and be effective managers and leaders, it was clear that fathers, some by choice, some by necessity, were becoming more involved in the front lines of caretaking," explained Levy. "And it was also clear some fathers didn't really have the skills they needed to do that. All of our programs are geared toward building fathering skills."
The Fatherhood Project provides both research around fathering, and training for fathers and medical staffs who may be seeking skills and support. Programs include The Dads Matter Initiative in Pediatrics, an ongoing collaboration between the MGH Revere Department of Pediatrics and The Fatherhood Project. The Dads Matter Initiative was designed to help health care professionals serving a diverse patient population to develop simple, integrated approaches to engaging with men and promoting active fatherhood.
Components of Dads Matter include a Dads & Kids Connect Group, an ongoing drop-in format group with the aim of increasing men's sense of confidence, competence and connection with their young children. While at the group, dads take part in unstructured play with their kids, structured activities and even a 30-minute educational session with a curriculum built around important topics for fathers.
Another program is Divorcing Dads, which aims to develop fathering skills for all dads, including estranged spouses, said Levy. The program is designed to address the emotional and practical aspects of fathering through all stages of divorce.
"It focuses on unification and the importance of kids feeling close to their fathers," said Levy. "A critical variable in divorce is that feeling of closeness the father has with child. In a situation where there is 50-50 parenting time, even if the father is non-resident, you can mitigate damage to the father-child relationship by being engaged and involved."
Other programs offer services for dads with partners still in prenatal care aimed at helping fathers to engage with their infants at the start of life, and also support for teen dads, as well as fathers recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.
Most programs, other than the Divorcing Dads meetings, are held at sites in the community, including the Revere Community Health Center, Boston English High School and Catholic Charities in Haverhill.
More information about the Fatherhood Project here.