Child Development Resources received a major grant last month that will allow the organization to continue putting resources into one of its most vital initiatives, the Fatherhood program.
The $682,981 grant comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and will be disbursed among new and existing Fatherhood program offerings. It is renewable for five years.
The cornerstone of the Fatherhood program is “Rookie Dads,” a class for soon-to-be or new fathers looking to learn the basics of fatherhood such as changing diapers, executing feedings and swaddling their babies. Fathers also receive a “swag bag” at the end of the two-hour session stuffed full of diapers, further reading materials and ideas for activities to do with the baby.
Jeff Carroll, principal of Warhill High School and a now-volunteer for the Fatherhood program, turned to Rookie Dads when preparing for the adoption of his second child in 2012.
Carroll believes that many people who know him as a professional educator with extensive experience at the elementary, middle and high school levels would be surprised to learn how unprepared he felt when he and his wife were notified in early 2012 that their adoption of a child due to be born in three months’ time had been approved.
Though the couple already had an older son, Michael, they had adopted him just two years earlier when he was already 5 years old. Despite being a second-time parent and his career working with children, Carroll found he was lacking experience with newborns and toddlers.
“I realized I had never worked with kids younger than five,” Carroll said. “The idea of being a dad with an infant terrified me.”
Carroll was referred to CDR’s Rookie Dads class to help address some of his fears, and after a two-hour session he felt much more able to tackle feeding, changing, bathing and swaddling when the baby arrived.
Still feeling like he was lacking confidence after his son Peter Joseph came, Carroll decided to avail himself of another service that the Fatherhood program provides – one-on-one sessions in the home with the program’s fatherhood consultant, Nick Corsi.
While Rookie Dads had provided Carroll with the practical basics of fatherhood, the one-on-one session addressed more subtle concerns, such as how to interact and bond with the baby. Having that sort of individualized attention was invaluable when it came to reassuring Carroll that he was doing everything he should with his son.
Carroll also continued to attend the quarterly Fatherhood night, which is offered as a sort of extension of the Rookie Dad’s class where guest speakers address additional questions or topics of interest broached by the dads.
For many fathers, this is where involvement with the Fatherhood program, and in some cases CDR in general, tapers off. The organization’s services focus on children from birth up to age three in the hopes that by setting a good foundation during those formative years kids and parents will be well-equipped to handle whatever comes next.
It was because of his involvement with CDR that Carroll knew enough about the signs of normal development to realize that something was not quite right about Peter Joseph around the time of his first Christmas. Something about the way he was crawling did not match up with what Carroll had learned to expect, and so he decided to take advantage of the free developmental screening service CDR offers to all parents in the community.
The screening expert concurred something did not look quite right, and after some further investigation they found the cause: Peter Joseph had cerebral palsy.
The diagnosis was upsetting and scary for Carroll and his wife, but CDR offered the support they needed to get through that difficult time. Luckily the disorder had been caught early enough that there were many options for treatment, both medically and through therapeutic programs at CDR.
“If it wasn’t for me going to Rookie Dads, I don’t know when or if we would have had that screening done,” Carroll said. “[Participating in the Fatherhood program] was life-changing for me and for my son.”
Carroll believes it is success stories like his that emphasize the value of what the Fatherhood program has to offer. He recalls other fathers in his Rookie Dads class having traveled from communities such as Gloucester and Hampton in order to take part in the program.
“Other places don’t offer these types of classes,” Carroll said. “I think we’re very fortunate as a community that we have CDR.”
Last year alone almost 100 dads participated in Rookie Dads, and 138 home visits with 37 fathers were conducted in the community. Some of the recently awarded grant money will go toward supporting these programs, along with a Spanish-language Rookie Dads that has not quite taken off as well as the traditional class.
“We’re tweaking it because we haven’t had as much of an impact as we’d like to,” said Amy Bornhoft, CDR’s director of training. She suggests there may be cultural reasons Spanish-speaking dads are less comfortable participating in a class as a group, and as a result CDR is looking into offering individual sessions rather than a traditional class for this population.
Another program that will benefit from the grant money is “Linkages,” which allows incarcerated fathers the chance to “connect with their children and learn valuable parenting skills through interactive classes and parent/child bonding time,” according to a recent news release from CDR.
Linkages, which is a partnership program with Family Focus, includes one night a month when the inmates can participate in family activities. It is the only time inmates can actually touch their children, Bornhoft said.
Though money from the grant will be put toward continuing to fund all of these existing programs, it will also be directed toward a new partnership with Literacy for Life that aims to offer employment resources and workforce skills training to dads.
“I’m really excited it seems like the state is taking a more active role in recognizing the importance of dads,” Bornhoft said. “They are finally giving [programs for fathers] more attention and monetary support, which is great because dads being involved is so, so important.”
Carroll echoed this sentiment, citing the changing expectations for fathers in our society as an indicator of the importance of programs geared toward them.
“We have some different expectations now than the things that our fathers did, and if those roles weren’t modeled for you, you need some way to learn,” Carroll said. “[The Rookie Dads class] is the best two hours I’ve ever spent. It helped me have the confidence to be the father I wanted to be.”
Click here for more information about CDR’s Fatherhood program.