Child abuse prevention programs target Michigan fathers 

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By Zaira Magomedova

LANSING — Doughnuts for Dudes, a Clare County event planned next spring for fathers to enjoy doughnuts and games with their children, is part of a trend to prevent child abuse with programs for men.

Initiatives aimed at fathers are uncommon, said Rosalyn Kindell, the prevention education coordinator at the Northern Michigan Alliance for Children.

“A lot of programs are focused on mothers, which doesn’t give dads an opportunity to share and receive support, to be in a safe space where they could talk about some of the challenges that come with being a caregiver to a child,” she said.

The research and evidence-based initiatives for men are among 10 Michigan child abuse prevention programs recently awarded $1.8 million in grants from the Children’s Trust Fund. The grants are aimed at families that have risk factors or challenges which could affect child well-being and development.

“Being a parent is a new experience to a lot of people, and we all need support. We all don’t always have answers,” Kindell said. “So we wanted to create a program that could help fathers learn how to manage this adventure of being a parent.”

The Children’s Trust Fund asked grant applicants to consider focusing on  programs for fathers in 2020, said Suzanne Greenberg, the director of the agency. The decision to create more opportunities for fathers was based on research and experience. 

”About 80% of child abuse cases in Michigan are cases of neglect,” Greenberg said. Many survivors lacked a strong father presence or any father presence.

“It makes a tremendous difference on the development of a child,” she said. 

Fathers are participating in support groups and act as part of the team providing the support.

“It is not all-moms only anymore. This is what programs are really working on: recruiting dads to be in most positions,” Greenberg said.

One of the programs, Fraternity of Fathers, is being implemented by Northern Michigan Alliance for Children in Clare County. It is a part of the Strong Roots program, created at the University of Michigan.

It uses attachment theory concepts and adventure therapy principles to help fathers overcome problems communicating with their children, said Kindell, a coordinator of the program.

”At an adventure therapy program you can get an opportunity to engage in interactive activities, where you learn something about yourself and others in the process,” she said. “Maybe our dads have a child with a disability, or are having issues with their child having not ideal behavior, or maybe they just need support on how to be a dad. 

“So, instead of sitting and talking about emotions we do different activities to try and bring those thoughts and emotions out in the fathers.”

Another program, 24/7 Dads, helps fathers communicate with their spouses and children and addresses sensitive topics like drug or alcohol abuse, said Kristen Young, the director of Women’s Specialty and Prevention programs at Flint Odyssey House. 

“They want to be able to say. ‘OK, I’ve made several mistakes, please don’t repeat that’ and have some difficult conversations,” she said. “Our program not only allows them to build the skills but also connect with other dads who have a similar experience.” 

Providing fathers with tools that help cope with anger and handle conflicts could reduce risk factors for abuse, said Young.

Conflicts that happen between mothers and fathers frequently result in the neglect and, possibly, abuse of children.

“Parenting can be stressful,” she said. “But if you have another parent that you can rely on, that is involved and that you are able to agree with, it reduces a lot of the stress.”.

The programs will be implemented in the next four years. The 10 organizations receiving funding from Children’s Trust Fund are:

  • Calhoun Intermediate School District, $200,000 for expanded Parents as Teachers Home Visiting program.
  • Catholic Family Services, $200,000 for expanded Parents as Teachers Home Visiting program.
  • Community Assessment Referral & Education, $200,000 for Nurturing Parents & 24/7 Dads program in Saginaw and Bay counties.
  • Flint Odyssey House, $181,212 for 24/7 Dads program.
  • Midland Kids First, $200,000 for Safe Environment for Every Kid program.
  • MI Health Improvement Alliance, Freeland, $180,212 for expanded Making Parenting a Pleasure program.
  • MomsBloom, Inc., Grand Rapids, $106,880 for Gather & Grow program.
  • Northern MI Mobile Child Advocacy Center, $196,860 for Strong Roots program, Fraternity to Fathers & Mom Power.
  • Lenawee Intermediate School District, $200,000 for expanded Parents as Teachers Home Visiting program.
  • Sanilac Intermediate School District, $200,000 for enhanced Parent as Teachers Home Visiting program.

More information about the grants can be found on the Michigan government website.

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