Enrollment and intake are the first step for participation in the FATHER Project. Potential participants who meet eligibility criteria are then invited to attend orientation. The FATHER Project holds bi-weekly orientation sessions, using a peer-centered approach, to invite fathers to participate in the project by educating them about available services and by empowering them to build positive relationships with other young fathers.
Orientation lasts three days: the first two days are designed to inform fathers of program elements and requirements, while the last day (occurring the following week) involves full program enrollment and a graduation ceremony. On the first day of orientation, Central Minnesota Legal Services (CMLS) provides a presentation on understanding paternity, custody and parenting time and legal issues related to establishing and increasing time with their children. Hennepin County Child Support Officers (HCCSO) provide information about paternity establishment, establishing and modifying child support obligations, and other aspects of child support enforcement. Although child support officers can share general information, they can only work directly with Hennepin County cases. Fathers with cases in other counties are referred to the appropriate office. The FATHER Project Employment consultant gives a presentation on employment and training, and each day is completed with a review of the days information and a question and answer session. Intake forms and orientation schedule can be found in Appendix B.
On the second day of orientation, a Life Skills seminar is offered all day where potential enrollees can share more of their personal objectives for entering the program and determine if participation in the FATHER Project is appropriate for their own situation. On the third day, full enrollment paperwork is completed and graduation completion certificates are presented. Fathers who fully enroll in the project are then assigned a father advocate and complete an individualized Father Development Plan (Fatherhood Plan). The Father Development plan was created during the PFF Demonstration Period, catering to the specific goals and needs of the program. The Fatherhood Plan covers the following areas and can be found in Appendix C:
- Fatherhood and Self Development
- Benchmarks for this area include: parenting group participation, attending empowerment group
- Employment, Training, and Education
- Benchmarks for this area include: job placement, GED assessment, GED subtest scores, skills training program participation, and attendance at job club
- Parenting Development
- Benchmarks for this area include: completing parenting assessments, increases in visitation, improvements to custody situations, positive interactions with children, attendance at play and learn sessions
- Paternity and Child Support
- Benchmarks for this area include: establishing paternity and child support, having regular contact with child support officers, paying child support
- Other Individual Goals
- Benchmarks for this area include: improving housing situation, repairing credit, increasing life and relationship skills, addressing chemical dependency and mental health issues
- Identification of one or two major, long term life goals to accomplish in the next year
The Fatherhood Plan is an essential element of program participation. Each month, participants meet with their Father Advocate to reassess their progress on their plan, and to redesign it with updated benchmarks. After full enrollment in the FATHER project, participants begin receiving services. All participant progress towards goals and services received are tracked collaboratively through a system of Coordinated Case Management. The collaborative case management model is designed to assist fathers in establishing and achieving individualized goals related to employment, parenting and child support and includes bi-weekly case review meetings to discuss individual participant progress among internal staff and staff from partnering agencies (including child support, attorney, and GED instructor). This system fosters appropriate levels of both accountability and support across all program areas.
The Father Advocate provides leadership within the collaborative case management model, serving as the “point person” for communication and data sharing. The Advocate maintains a case file for each participant and works with each participant to develop an individualized Fatherhood Development Plan. The goal is for all service providers to maintain a close connection with one another and with each participant.
Advocacy comes in the form of keeping an accurate record of the participant’s accomplishments, then providing that information to Child Protection Workers, Child Support Officers, Probation/Parole officers, other FATHER Project staff, and partner agencies. Advocates may also provide participants with references or letters of support.
A typical meeting with a participant usually consists of simple updates. The advocate and participant review the Fatherhood Plan and discuss what benchmarks have been met, and what progress has been made towards others. Meetings last around one hour and occur at least twice per month, though only one monthly meeting is required for participation.
Five main documents are used to track this program component: 1) Fatherhood Plan; 2) Monthly Report; 3) Monthly Compliance Letter; 4) Good Standings Close Letter; and 5) Inactive Letter. The main document used to track an individual’s progress is the Fatherhood Plan, monitored and updated at each advocacy meeting. In addition, a standardized monthly report is used by father advocates to document and track participant activities. Three letters are sent to participants to update them on their program status: a monthly compliance letter, which informs the participant that they are making adequate progress; a good standings close letter, which informs the participant that they have fulfilled all the necessary requirements for the FATHER Project, but can still utilize services and attend sessions; and an inactive letter, which informs participants who did not comply with program requirements that their case has gone inactive. All five of these documents can be found in Appendix C.
The Employment Consultant holds weekly job clubs and delivers the formal Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota (G/ESM) Employment Readiness Training curriculum, involving Father Advocates where needed. There, fathers complete interest inventories and vocational assessments, develop resumes, and receive other job-seeking supports. Fathers ready to begin their job search develop an Individualized Employment Plan based on interests and assessments and receive individualized placement assistance in a one-on-one setting. Fathers placed receive ongoing follow-up, retention and advancement supports.
Job club is divided into five parts: 1) Resume writing, 2) skills identification, 3) felony explanation, 4) interview question training and mock interview, 5) creative job search strategies. For the mock interview, the employment counselor utilizes an outside corporate volunteer to make it more realistic. In one-on-one employment counseling, the major components of the Job Club are discussed more thoroughly and the Fatherhood plan is utilized to clearly identify what each participants’ employment goals are, as well as any other life circumstances that may affect obtaining employment. Resume writing exercises are also used in the one-on-one, leading to the point where participants build their own resumes. Training in interview questions, review of the mock interview video, and a discussion of employment goals and an individuals strengths are weaknesses are completed over two to five one-on-one meetings.
In addition, participants complete interest and vocational assessments, including included the Myers-Briggs test. Email accounts are set up for each participant and training on how to seek employment listings online is explained. Thus, computer literacy training becomes a core component of the employment services offered through the FATHER Project. Participants are also referred to partner organizations for job skills training and other employment services, including G/ES, PPL, DIW, Summit OIC, and Century Community College.
Four basic documents are used to track participant’s progress for this program component: 1) Employment Consultant Checklist, 2) Employment Planning Worksheet, 3) Participant Commitment Form, 4) Placement Plan. All documents used for the employment counseling component can be found in Appendix D of this manual.
A GED Trainer offers individualized GED assessments, tutoring and practice testing for fathers with no high school diploma or GED, as indicated in the Fatherhood Plan. The GED program is housed at the FATHER Project office, and also offers services to community members who are not officially enrolled in the FATHER Project.
Child Support Services
As a partner, Hennepin County Child Support (HCCS) participates in this model if paternity needs to be established, if the father owes child support, or the father needs assistance in managing arrears. HCCS established on site office hours with two child support officers in order to provide individual meetings with participants in a more non-traditional setting, two day a week. HCCS officers help develop individual case plans to meet the FATHER Project’s core areas; fatherhood skills development, employment and training and child support services. In addition, they review service level determination forms and releases for all potential enrollees and provide information to advocates that may preclude an individual from enrolling in the program.
Parenting Education and Activities
Father Advocates hold parenting sessions twice each week, with the CLUES Father Advocate holding a separate group for Spanish-speaking fathers once each week. Parenting sessions are a core element of program participation and are required for completion of the FATHER Project. Parent Educators are trained on “best practices” using the Way To Grow (WTG) model with curriculum developed for specific program activities in the area of school readiness, health training and information sharing. In addition to these sessions, WTG holds dedicated “Play, Learn & Grow” sessions, which are a skill-based, interactive parent education group for dads and their children, held twice per month. Participants are required to attend two Parent Support Groups per month.
On-site counseling sessions are available for fathers and families through a partnership with AAFS. In addition, afternoon sessions around motivation and empowerment for fathers are offered, in an Empowerment Group format. These sessions give fathers a time to discuss personal issues outside of fathering-specific groups.
Citizen Father Project
For some high achieving project participants, the Citizen Father Project was developed with University of Minnesota professor and researcher Dr. William Doherty. The Citizen Father Project, based on the Families in Democracy Model, brings citizens and professionals together to develop public action projects for communities. Participants are able to take their personal experiences of being involved with the FATHER Project and the barriers they overcame to develop projects to impact the community at large.
The goals of the Citizen Father Project are two-fold: 1) conduct a large number of community presentations that addresses the community problem of a lack of positive involved fathers in the lives of their children, and 2) develop a video documentary so that those messages can be distributed much more broadly. These goals were established through an intensive, extensive group process that involved Dr. Doherty, key professional FATHER Project staff, and eight high achieving fathers. Five audiences were delineated as key audiences for the community presentations: youth, single moms, other fathers, incarcerated dads, and professionals working in the fatherhood field. Also through the extensive group process, lasting over a year, key messages were crafted for each of those audiences and presentation formats were developed, tailored to audiences of different sizes and different presentation formats (small group, large audience, radio, etc.). Consistent with the Citizens in Democracy model, the messages and presentations go beyond fathers simply “telling their story,” to encapsulating their personal/private experiences, but making a connection to the “public/community” issue, in a solution-focused way.
The community presentations have been implemented, and presentations have occurred to the following audiences: Early Childhood Family Education professional staff, Hennepin County Teen Parent Connection members, fathers incarcerated in Ramsey County, mothers whose significant other is incarcerated, FATHER Project Steering Committee members, KMOJ Radio, low-income fathers involved in parenting groups, high school students enrolled in alternative school (boys and girls), and others.
Next steps include developing a strategy for opening the Citizen Father Project more broadly to include other FATHER Project participants and completing a second project. The initiative is seen as a way for the relatively small FATHER Project to have a wider impact and initiate change, engaging fathers in the broader solution. For the second project, fathers who have participated in the program will be profiled by Citizen Father Project members to show what barriers they have overcome to be more involved with their children’s lives. These stories are being developed into a documentary to continue to educate communities about the importance and benefit of father involvement. Dr. Doherty will continue to facilitate this process, providing training to Citizen Father Project members (which include FATHER Project staff as process leaders) in the family democracy model in regards to deliberate, consensus based decision making.