By Molly Peterson, Director of Strategic Partnerships

Between juggling my role at Prevent Child Abuse Arizona and the joyous whirlwind of being a mom to a toddler, I’ve sought guidance and relief from parenting books. I frequently pass them onto my husband, who is just as eager to soak up any wisdom on how to parent our rapidly growing child (photographed to the right). After quietly finishing another book, he turned to me with mixed emotions.

“The tools were so helpful,” he said, “but why was it written as if moms would be the only one who would use them?”

I hadn’t even realized it until he said something – he’s right. The book was written as if only for mothers. We know that meeting the needs of children and families takes all perspectives. Even still, it can be easy to overlook whether our resources include specific perspectives, such as those of fathers.

Over the last year, Prevent Child Abuse Arizona partnered with the Department of Child Safety Office of Prevention to offer a four-part Fatherhood Engagement Series designed to help direct service providers understand the biases, barriers, and research behind fatherhood involvement. The four sessions occurred from June 2023 to March 2024, each focusing on a specific aspect of fatherhood engagement.

 

Session 1 welcomed Patrick Hutchins, Dou-bro’z Founder and postpartum doula (pictured to the left with his son). Patrick shared his direct experience with the child welfare system, as well as the numerous interactions he has had with fathers throughout the postpartum period. Attendees shared that it was vitally helpful to use Patrick’s story as a kick start to valuable and non-judgmental conversations in breakout rooms.

Session 2 featured Neil Tift, Outreach Coordinator for the Native American Fatherhood and Families Association, who spoke directly about engaging fathers during home visits. As home visitors can primarily focus on the postpartum needs of the mother, this perspective was appreciated by attendees. One participant shared, “I love Neil’s approach to making sure fathers are better understood and respected, while making sure that it is never at the expense of women, but rather to lift up both!”

January’s Session 3 highlighted Edward Casillas and Michael Huesca, creators of Authentic Fatherhood Partnerships, who emphasized the importance of father involvement and the four principles that make establishing authentic partnerships with fathers possible. With support from the presenters and their peers, attendees reflected on their own biases, and left with concrete understanding of how to optimize community collaboration for authentic partnership with fathers.

The four-part series closed with the highly anticipated Dr. Justin Harty, Assistant Professor at ASU’s School of Social Work. Dr. Harty presented on multi-faceted research on the impacts of involved fathers and the large scope of studies regarding systemic biases against fathers in child welfare and other institutions. He also presented his research on innovative strategies for empowering paternity in family services. One attendee shared, “I am excited about all the initiatives and awareness on fathers’ rights. This will not only keep families together, but also save state agencies money since there will be less need for foster care and adoption subsidies. This in turn helps the community and supports children’s well-being.”

As we move forward, it is critical that we continue to remember to include fathers’ perspectives in our service delivery. Not only that, but we need to challenge biases, dismantle barriers, and foster inclusivity in our efforts to support families. By recognizing and elevating the role of fathers in child welfare and family services, we not only strengthen familial bonds but also create more resilient communities. Together, let’s strive to build a future where every caregiver feels empowered and supported in nurturing the next generation.