Connecticut is one of many states making strides to promote father engagement in home visiting. In 2009, a small pilot introduced five male home visitors into two priority communities to support fathers (and father figures) of children enrolled in home visiting. Ten years later, Connecticut has the capacity for 25 male home visitors to deliver the Parents as Teachers model across the state. This growth is thanks, in part, to support from the federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program.
NHVRC spoke with Jennifer Wilder, primary prevention services coordinator in the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, to learn more about father engagement and to discuss lessons learned.
NHVRC: How do father-focused home visitors implement Parents as Teachers differently than home visitors working primarily with mothers or couples?
Wilder: Male home visitors use the Parents as Teachers curriculum with fidelity to the model within each visit while adapting the language and activities to make it appropriate and engaging for men. They also use other approaches in their work—for example, 24/7 Dads, Dr. Dad, Circles of Security—and their experiences as men and fathers to engage other fathers. They work to meet loving father figures where they are.
Connecticut-based male home visitors continue to add to home visiting programs’ understanding of working with fathers within the network and beyond. An example of this is the encouragement of male home visitors to develop and lead local, state, and regional workshops on how to engage and work with dads.
NHVRC: What services do fathers receive?
Wilder: Male home visitors offer weekly home visits, host workshops open to community dads using evidence-based curricula, and lead father-friendly Family Group Connection meetings. The dad workshops and Family Group Connections are used as a recruitment tool [for home visits]. Some fathers choose not to have a home visitor but value the opportunity to learn from other fathers in a group setting.
Much of the preliminary work of our male home visitors includes supporting fathers in finding work and continuing their education, specifically helping with resumes and job applications. Once trust is established, they begin to support fathers to peel back layers of toxic masculinity that may block them from the vulnerability needed to authentically connect to their children.
NHVRC: What are the biggest challenges to hiring male, father-focused home visitors?
Wilder: Home visiting is a challenging female-dominated field. Finding and retaining men with the skills to do this work is difficult. The position historically experienced frequent turnover as the role is isolating and enrollment of fathers can be trying. [Enrollment challenges] make it difficult to maintain a caseload, which, in turn, can make male home visitors feel unsuccessful.
It is also difficult for new male home visitors to get their feet under them. Job shadowing allows exposure to doing this work in different parts of the state and serving different populations. We also hold monthly roundtables for father-focused home visitors. The roundtable provides an opportunity for male home visitors to discuss issues that fathers commonly face and share best practices. This has really helped address some of our challenges.
Additionally, these challenges were addressed by making the position more attractive to male home visitors. Sites encourage flexibility in schedule and duties. For example, one of our most successful male home visitors is part time. He works another job in the morning and then does home visits in the afternoon. The male home visitors are also involved in various father engagement initiatives in the state like working with all-male prisons, offering groups and support for dads transitioning back into the community. There are opportunities for varied schedules, duties, and tasks along the way, which make the job more intriguing.
NHVRC: What are some of your takeaways from this experience?
Wilder: The research tells us that the involvement of a loving father figure has tremendous positive effects on the outcomes of children. Having male home visitors has narrowed the proximity of those statistics. Our male home visitors share the stories behind the numbers and advocate on behalf of the fathers they support. The agency is forced to consider the impact of policy change on fathers. We ask ourselves, “Does this speak to a dad? Is this father friendly?” We are more intentional with our inclusion of fathers.