Fatherhood Roundtable Kicks Off Critical Conversation for Family Wellbeing

Making men's mental health and paternal engagement a part of building strong families

April 17, 2017

Seleni was thrilled to partner with the Good+ Foundation to host a roundtable on supporting fathers and prioritizing their emotional well-being in the efforts to improve the mental health of women and families. The excitement in the room was testament to the need for deep discussions of paternal well-being and involvement to be a larger part of the conversations about strengthening families.

The participants represented a broad group of organizations that work with families and fathers through both group events and one-on-one programs, including:

CUNY Fatherhood Academy
Harlem Children's Zone
NYC Dads Group

Jomael Young, fatherhood program manager of the Good+ Foundation, shared best practices for engaging fathers. For example, working in partnership with local organizations and connecting with key influencers in communities, including clergy members and business owners of informal gathering places (such as barber shops), are critical ways to gain fathers' trust and increase their participation.

Seleni's Charles Schaeffer, PhD, shared important and little-known information about the mental health effects – both psychological and hormonal – birth and the transition to parenthood can have on fathers. The group was struck by the high incidence of depression in men that is often ignored or overlooked in conversations about supporting fathers and families.

The two biggest barriers to getting men getting the treatment and support they need are the stigma around having mental health issues or using mental health care as well as the complete lack of focus on supporting me to help them feel good about faterhood. Efforts to strengthen families traditionally have focused on the mom, and there is very little conversation not only about the struggles fathers face, but also about what it means to be an involved and supported father. 

This also extends to health care as well in programs, such as WIC and community clinics, that tend to emphasize the mother's importance in child development, overlooking the contributions fathers bring to the family.

It was exciting to see organizations that have traditionally focused on children and mothers and those that work exclusively with men come together to find ways of strengthening families in a more holistic way. 

The group brainstormed ideas such as enlisting corporate sponsor support for programs that focus on fatherhood programs all year long (not just on Father's Day), implementing education programs to help new fathers cope from conception through key milestones, establishing mentorship programs for dads at all stages of child development, and ultimately creating a "culture of inclusion" for dads.

Key areas such programming can target include:

• Developing tools specific to helping young fathers balance the competing demands of school and work in addition to caring for a child, and managing the emotional toll of parenting.

• Co-hosting events with key influencers to begin a community-wide conversation about the struggles of fatherhood and finding ways to lower barriers to getting mental health (and other) support.

• Convening panel discussions at key industry events (such as Dads 2.0) that highlight the facts about mental health and fatherhood as well as the best approaches to getting men professional support for those issues.

• Implementing mental health training in parenting education programs for fathers.
The meeting promises to be the first of many for the group to share ideas and best practices about developing effective programming that will illuminate, normalize, and provide support for the struggles fathers face. It also marks the beginning of a critical conversation about what fathers need to feel supported and enjoy parenthood.