By Jessica Williams, Managing Director, Stakeholder Relations, Catholic Family Service and Unlocking Potential Foundation

The teenaged parents of six newborn or soon-to-be-born babies were honoured recently for completing a 12-week co-parenting group offered by Catholic Family Service’s Fathers Moving Forward program.

While the parents marked this milestone by sharing a meal with staff, donors and family members at Louise Dean Centre, we were quietly celebrating that the fathers were even in the room.

CFS has been in the business of serving teen mothers since 1970. Through our partnership with the Calgary Board of Education and Alberta Health Services at Louise Dean Centre, CFS has consistently demonstrated strong results in helping young mothers and their babies to thrive.

But what about the dads?

The idea to be inclusive and supportive of fathers was planted in 2013, when a program review revealed that the lack of services for fathers was a gap in service. The review highlighted emerging research by Shift: The Project to End Domestic Violence, which named positive father involvement as a primary strategy for domestic violence prevention.

In 2014, Shift released research and recommendations for the involvement of young fathers at the Louise Dean Centre. In addition to finding that there are virtually no evidence-based programs available to teen fathers in Canada, the report also found that there are no Canadian studies whatsoever that are specific to young fathers.

The reports were galvanizing for CFS leadership and board, particularly CEO Patricia Jones. “Once we understood the profound influence of fathers, and the utter lack of services available to them, the need to include fathers in our services became very clear to us. We had to confront and challenge our own implicit beliefs that fathers were optional to our work building strong families.”

The need was so compelling that CFS decided not only to introduce programming for young fathers, but also to initiate a five-year research project studying the impact of the new program.

With funding from the Family and Community Safety Program of the Government of Alberta and an anonymous donor, CFS launched the Fathers Moving Forward (FMF) program and research project at Louise Dean Centre in 2015. FMF targets biological fathers-to-be, aged 16 – 26 years, of babies who will be born to teenagers participating in programming at the Louise Dean Centre or other allied programming for pregnant and/or parenting teens.

The goals of FMF programming are to reduce the risk of child maltreatment and intimate partner violence by increasing young fathers’ economic self-sufficiency, emotional and physical well-being, involvement with their children, individual parenting skills, and ability to co-parent. The goal of the research project is to determine the effectiveness of an adapted (American) evidence-based model in Canada. For the first time, Calgary will contribute Canadian data to the small but growing body of literature about father involvement in families.

With the program in its second year, early data is showing promising results. The program is gaining momentum: participation by fathers in the first three months of year two is already twice the level of participation in the entire first year. Young fathers have reported being engaged in positive ways with their babies and more confident in their parenting abilities. In the words of one participant, “I feel like a dad now.”

“Our vision is fathers feeling supported and confident, mothers feeling like they don’t have to do it alone, and our entire community affirming that both parents are key players in their children’s lives,” Patricia said.
”When I look at the research, and see these young dads who want so much to be there for their kids, I feel more and more convinced that this may be the most important work of our generation.”

Read more about the Fathers Moving Forward program here.