First published in the InsideDSHS weekly newsletter.
Eighteen months earlier, it was just an idea. By June 5, it was the Fatherhood Summit, an event at South Seattle College that brought together the best thinking on the topic by more than 135 people from 24 public and private organizations. Most importantly, half of the attendees were fathers, including Wally McClure, director of the Department of Social and Health Services’ Division of Child Support.
“There has been a national movement towards supporting the role of fathers,” McClure said, adding that he felt it was time to bring that conversation to Washington. “We realized that there was more we could to do to coordinate and connect resources for fathers.”
Summit attendees learned about brain science and the role fathers play in child development. Research indicates that children with strong ties to their parents are able to build relationships, strengthen important life skills and reduce their exposure to toxic stress, said Holly Schindler an assistant professor of Early Childhood Studies at the University of Washington.
Dr. Ronald Mincy, author of “Failing Our Fathers” shared his research on low-income fathers who did not live with their children. Though more children are born to unmarried mothers, fathers who were romantically involved with the child’s mother saw their kids at nearly identical rates as parents who lived together, Mincy said. His research also determined fathers who paid more support were more likely to engage in their child’s learning activities. But monetary support alone was not enough to raise healthy children.
“I believe in money and more,” Mincy said.
Being the father who does more is not always easy, said the fathers participating in a panel discussion. People often look past a father who is caring for a child, expecting the mother to be the caregiver. And some men grew up without fathers as role models and had a hard time finding peer mentors. Despite this, data presented at the summit indicated that fathers and mothers value and enjoy their role as a parent about equally.
One father described his experience as a dad as very enjoyable. And it had some surprising benefits.
“Playing with dinosaurs is a great way to take the edge off the day,” said James Moore. “And I like chicken tenders and pizza.”
By the end of the event, the group had agreed on 10 strategies to help fathers engage with and support their children and many attendees agreed to be participants in the next steps. The top five ideas included:
Establishing a Fatherhood Advisory Council
Training for state employees on fatherhood engagement and adverse childhood experiences
Investing in early childhood education and intervention
Providing accessible resources
Peer mentorship/support groups for fathers
The event was organized by Anne Stone with the Washington State Frontiers of Innovation. Partners and contributors to the event included organizations whose work touches the lives of many fathers, including the departments of Social and Health Services, Corrections, Early Learning and Health. Private and nonprofit partners included Divine Alternatives for Dads Services, Partnership for Fathers and Families, Washington State Fatherhood Network and King County Community Partners for Transition Solutions.