Community Collaboration: The Father Involvement Learning Network

The Father Involvement Learning Network is an inter-agency collaborative group in Stanislaus County. It is a two year initiative funded by the Stanislaus County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (BHRS). The goal of the initiative is to improve the mental health of and be a conduit of resources and best practices for men as fathers. The phrasing “men as fathers” is intentional because not all father figures are the biological fathers to the children they raise. Sometimes stepfathers or grandfathers raise a child instead of a child’s biological father.

There are seven core agencies involved in the Network: Center for Human Services (CHS), El Concilio, Aspiranet, Parent Resource Center, Manos Unidas, Sierra Vista Child and Family Services and Modesto City Schools.

The Network operates to find the answers to five learning questions:

  1. How will participation in a learning network impact the growth and development of its members?
  2. How will the learning network impact the quality (best practices) and quantity of father involvement activities? What will the learning network discover about impacting the quality of father involvement activities for fathers at risk for or experiencing mental illness?
  3. Will participation in father involvement activities across the county increase as a result of the learning network? Will participation by fathers at risk for or experiencing mental illness increase as a result of the learning network?
  4. Will fathers at risk for or experiencing mental illness, and their families, benefit from participating in the project activities, in particular increased protective factors?
  5. By implementing what is learned from the network, will father involvement activities be successful in reaching and further engaging unserved and underserved fathers who are at risk for or who have a mental illness?

The overarching learning outcome is to help inform the behavioral health field about developing and using collective wisdom through a learning network focused on increasing protective factors in a non-mental health setting for fathers at risk for or who have mental illness.

“We want to move away from blaming and shaming to create a space for healing,” said Sergio Lara, CHS project liaison to the Network.

It is important to bring awareness and mindfulness to diverse situations. Many fathers struggle with asking for help or from being engaged because they are faced with so many negative expectations set by popular media. “Hollywood often portrays dads as inept,” Sergio said, “when we aren’t intentional about engaging in conversations and being mindful, it is easy to accept those negative stereotypes as true.”

The network engages in these mindful conversations and speaks about fathers in a dignified way to figure out what they need from their community and what types of assistance the community is already providing. The organizations involved in the network want to learn from each other in order to support fathers in the community to feel prepared and confident enough to seek help if they need it. “We help fathers find what they already have in them and open the door to empowerment,” Sergio said, “it’s not a pass or fail, it’s about learning.” Learning is a gateway for change.

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