by Patricia Jones, CEO, Catholic Family Service

Up until recently, support for teen parents has focused mostly on young mothers, essentially leaving young dads out of the mix. This may have been due to a hold-over assumption that teen dads were either bad influences or not interested in playing an active role in their child’s life. At Catholic Family Service (CFS) and Louise Dean Centre (LDC), that wasn’t always our experience, however at LDC, we were steeped in nearly half a century of serving only young women and their children.

We know that young parents face a number of unique risks and barriers that, if left unaddressed, may leave them vulnerable to negative health and social risks – and impede the development and well-being of their children. New research is shining a light on the need to include both parents when it comes to positive parenting. In the case of young fathers, we understand their role, while not exactly the same as the mother, is equally important for their child’s physical, social, emotional and cognitive development. This new information led us on a path to develop a new program for teen dads called Fathers Moving Forward, which is based out of LDC.

Program design and implementation is something we are very familiar with, however the decision to serve young fathers has somewhat rocked our cultural foundation. We realized that we needed to move the needle from a stigma about young dads to understanding that they are equal and frankly, not optional. The bottom line is clear – dads matter. And in many cases, they want to be part of their child’s life, they just don’t always know how.

It’s no secret that changing an organization’s culture is one of the most difficult leadership challenges. Staff roles, infrastructure, processes and systems are in some ways the easy parts. At this point, our focus is getting everyone on the same page regarding the vision and benefits of the program. Open and honest communication is paramount. We continue to ask curious and sometimes thorny questions and do our best to listen to all perspectives – staff, volunteers, partners, and most importantly, the young men and women that we serve.

This has not been easy, but transformational change rarely is. In many ways, we are re-writing our LDC story – with laser beam focus on doing what’s best for families. And while it is still early days, everyone involved has demonstrated unwavering commitment to helping vulnerable families thrive.

For 47 years, CFS at LDC has provided pregnant and parenting teen moms, their children and families with educational and health care support, as well as helping them deal with the emotional and social needs that come with pregnancy and parenting. We are very proud to add young fathers to the mix.