The Fatherhood Initiative

Head Start

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, children who live in a home without a father are five times more likely to be poor than children who live with both a mother and a father. While eight percent of children in married-couple families are living in poverty, over 38 percent of children in households with only a mother are at or below the poverty threshold.

Because of this, parent involvement has long been one of the cornerstones of Head Start, and fathers are encouraged to participate in all aspects of the program. Since the 1990s, The Fatherhood Initiative in Head Start has been based on the belief that fathers and mothers contribute in different ways to the healthy growth and development of their children. When one of those parents is missing and/or not involved in the child's life, important areas of development are affected.

Recent research provides new and important information on the role that fathers play in their children's lives. Children with involved fathers:

  • Are more likely to do well in school.
  • Have healthier self-esteem.
  • Are less likely to have separation anxiety.
  • Demonstrate a greater ability to take initiative.
  • Have better self-control.
  • Are better problem solvers.
  • Get along better with peers.
  • Have fewer behavior problems.
  • Avoid high-risk behaviors.

The Fatherhood Initiative attempts to increase the number of fathers who take an active, meaningful role in their children's lives and strives to have both parents equally involved in their child's Head Start experience. Head Start programs are designed to be sensitive to the needs and interests of fathers by offering activities and programming that strengthen the relationship between fathers and their children.

In the early 90s, Western Dairyland Head Start staff members conducted a self-assessement of their own attitudes regarding fatherhood and also took a close look at the classroom environment. They discovered some negative stereotypes and biased attitudes, and a lack of fatherhood images in the classrooms. Western Dairyland Head Start Director Mary Jo Hite said that nearly all of the photos in the Head Start classrooms had been of mothers and children.

"It seems so simple, but we made the classrooms more father-friendly by adding some posters and photos of fathers interacting with their families," Hite said.

Nationwide, 40 percent of Head Start families are single-parent households, and a vast majority of those do not have the father living with the children. As a result, moms are often catered to at the expense of dads.

"In the past, we would call home and ask to speak with mom, and we would send notes home addressed to the mom," Hite said. "The moms always came first whenever we communicated with parents."

"Now we know that the most important thing we can do is give equal attention to the male role models," she said. "We let them know they are welcome, and we let them know we value their irreplaceable involvement in their child's life."

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