A federal grant of nearly $5 million will help to strengthen relationships between children and their fathers in Kansas, Nebraska and Texas.
Saint Francis Ministries, a nonprofit child and family well-being organization headquartered in Salina, has received a grant of $988,062 each year for five years from the Administration for Children and Families. The grant funds the Saint Francis Fatherhood FIRE program.
“The Fatherhood FIRE initiative builds on a fatherhood program that was ongoing at Saint Francis for five years in Kansas,” said The Very Rev. Robert N. Smith, dean, president and CEO. “This grant allows expansion of that successful program to Nebraska and Texas, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to impact generational patterns in families and support fathers who want to be better and do better for their children.”
Todd Hadnot, project director for the Fatherhood FIRE program, said the expanded program will include services such as:
●Education about parenting.
●Working to establish economic stability for the families.
●Increased focus on serving the mothers who are connected to the fathers, even if they are no longer together as a couple.
●Increased education and support for fathers who have been involved in domestic violence.
●Serving fathers from the communities who need the support, and not just through referrals from the child welfare system
Hadnot, who led Saint Francis’ Kansas fatherhood program, said he’s seen amazing changes happen during work with fathers.
“When we first start with them, we have them go back and look at how they were raised, how their fathers raised them,” he said. “Twenty or 30 years ago, we were raised totally different than the way children need to be raised today. One of the main things is being able to show feelings and emotions, letting our kids know it was okay to cry. They were often taught big boys don’t cry. We remove a lot of those stereotypes and let the dads know it’s okay to be emotional around their kids in a healthy way.”
It is, Hadnot added, critical to identify generational patterns and begin to offer a way for the men to change and become the fathers they would like to be.
The Kansas fatherhood program produced excellent results from the one-on-one and group work that was done with fathers, said Cheryl Rathbun, Saint Francis corporate vice president of Clinical. But the program funding through Kansas Department for Children and Families had ended, which was why the Saint Francis Ministries grant team applied for federal funding.
Rathbun said tradition has focused on the importance of mothers in their relationships with children, but practitioners have always known – and now research supports – that a father’s role is critical. Today, that role involves much more than the traditional concept of being a breadwinner.
“Dads are so important. Saint Francis knows that fathers have an invaluable impact on their children’s physical, social, emotional, spiritual and financial well-being,” she said. “We engage the fathers and help them understand the importance of their role because they often think they’re not important too. Sons grow up learning how to treat women from their fathers, not their mothers. And daughters grow up learning how to be treated by men from their fathers, not their mothers.”
A voluntary program, FIRE engages fathers and supports them in multiple ways, from learning how to parent and co-parent to building relationship skills, offering behavioral health support as needed, and even prepping them to find jobs.
Many fathers in the Kansas program did not have good role models in their birth families, Rathbun said. Saint Francis researched father absence, poverty and domestic violence within our geographic service areas, as well as on the demographic data of families who are involved in the child welfare system, to develop a model that responds to the needs of fathers in our service areas.
Saint Francis is partnering with the University of Kansas, which will act as a third-party, independent evaluator.