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In the past two years, I have moved from being a married dad of two daughters (ages 23 and 17), to a divorced dad with full custody of my youngest daughter (who was 15 at the time), to soon becoming a stepdad to four stepdaughters…or their “bonus dad” as they like to call me.

I’ve done a lot of reading in preparation for this next chapter of my fathering story. In that, I’ve found a few themes that will be helpful for you as you work with blended families and stepdads. These themes are especially important because over 50 percent of families include partners who have remarried or recoupled, and 1,300 stepfamilies are formed every day.

Here are three important things to share with stepdads:

1. Take care of your marriage. While blending your family and building your relationship with your stepchildren will take a lot of time and devotion, it’s critical that you make the relationship with your spouse the priority.

When your stepchildren see you taking good care of their mom, it will make it easier for them to trust you and want to open their lives up to you. A strong marriage will also help you and mom work through the challenges that will inevitably come up in a blended family (e.g. being fair to biological and stepchildren, establishing new familial norms, and dealing with ex-spouses).

Taking care of your marriage will involve working on effective communication skills, being intentional on spending quality time together, and investing in resources on healthy relationship (e.g. seminars, books, and counseling).

2. Develop trust with your stepchildren before imposing too much authority and discipline. One study out of Brigham Young University found that, from the children's perspective, frustrations occur when the new dad assumes too much parental authority or when he disrupts the family's normal way of doing things.

Instead, in stepfamilies, it’s the responsibility of the biological parent—with the stepparent providing input—to create, relate, and enforce family expectations. 

3. Manage expectations. A great way to manage expectations is to focus on patience and open communication. The article “You Can Be A Great Stepfather” provides the following advice:

  • Don’t expect “love at first sight” reactions from your new stepchildren. If it’s hard for you to discern your new place in a family, imagine what it’s like for the children!

  • Loyalty conflicts arise within stepchildren and between their biological parents and you. So it’s important to be careful in the way you address their biological father. Steer away from sarcasm and even be supportive of them. Make it your goal to create a new bond with your stepchildren, but don’t expect to replace the original father-child bond that existed.

You can use these recommendations to help stepdads be successful in their role. Ultimately, stepdads need to know they are uniquely equipped to have a positive impact in their stepchildren’s lives and that change takes time.

My fiancée says that we are more like a crockpot family instead of a blended family. In the crockpot, we all slowly simmer, maintaining who we are, while collectively becoming something new and better than we were before.

You can visit the National Stepfamily Resource Center for programs, services, and educational resources that can help you support stepdads.

Have you served stepdads?

What are some ways you can help stepdads with their unique challenges?

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National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) transforms organizations and communities by equipping them to intentionally and proactively engage fathers in their children’s lives. That’s our mission.

One of the primary ways in which we pursue our mission is to equip organizations and staff with the resources they need to effectively engage fathers. The core resource we use to equip is our line of fatherhood programs: 24/7 Dad®, InsideOut Dad®, The 7 Habits of a 24/7 Dad™, and Fathering in 15™.

To maximize success in the use of our fatherhood programs, we have created a complementary set of resources and services to draw upon. These include:

  • Facilitator and Staff Training that builds capacity in how to use our programs specifically and engage fathers generally, including in specific settings.
  • Support Programs and Resources that deepen fathers’ learning and that engage mothers in father involvement.
  • Planning and Marketing resources and services that help create father-friendly organizations and strategic and tactical plans to effectively engage fathers, and that help market fatherhood programs.
  • Technical Assistance services that provide guidance and tips from NFI staff and peers.


Our fatherhood programs and complementary resources and services form a “system for success” that helps you:

  • Extract the most value from our fatherhood programs.
  • Effectively implement, manage, and maintain your father engagement effort.
  • Fulfill a promise to engage fathers in their children’s lives.

We created the infographic below to illustrate this system. Use it to guide your acquisition of the resources and services you should draw upon to maximize success in the use of our fatherhood programs.

>> Click here to download it and share with your fellow staff.

We also created a new position to help you implement this system. I’d like to introduce you to our new Program Implementation Specialist, Ave Mulhern. Ave’s focus is to help you succeed in the use of our programs. You can reach her at 240-912-1289 or amulhern@fatherhood.org.

 We look forward to deepening our partnership with you as you leverage this system for success!

Are you aware of all the resources and services NFI provides that will help you succeed with our programs?

Which complementary resources and services have you drawn upon to maximize your success with our programs?

 

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A majority of folks in the fatherhood field initially learn about NFI because of our popular, core curricula: 24/7 Dad®, InsideOut Dad®, The 7 Habits of a 24/7 Dad™, and Fathering in 15™. But what some people don’t realize is that we also specialize in providing free resources to help you be successful in general in your work with fathers and families. 

In fact, when NFI staff “walk” people over to our Resource Library on Fatherhood.org, they are astounded, and often overwhelmed!

Where do I begin? What do I look at first? What do you have that I need? These are the questions we often hear.

In this post, I will provide an overview of our Resource Library, what you will find there, and in some cases, how you can use it.

To begin, here’s the link to our seriously awesome Resource Library.

The Resource Library is organized by resource and media type, allowing you to click into any of the individual sections, or simply click ‘View All’ at the top.

Here’s an overview of what we’ve got in there for you:

 24/7 Dad® Program Related Resources:

  • 24/7 Dad® Evaluations, Samples, Pitch Kit, Fidelity Guide
  • How to Run 24/7 Dad® with Teens eBook
  • 24/7 Dad® Pledge Cards, Planning Prompt Cards, links to the 24/7 Dad To Go™ apps

InsideOut Dad® Program Related Resources:

  • InsideOut Dad® Evaluations, Samples, Pitch Kit, Fidelity Guide
  • How to Run InsideOut Dad® in Jails and Short-Term Facilities
  • Engaging Fathers for Successful Reentry eBook

Understanding Dad™ Program Related Resources:

  • Understanding Dad® Pilot Study, Samples, Pitch Kit, Fidelity Guide
  • Understanding Dad® Planning Prompt Cards


NFI Program Evaluations:

  • A collection of all NFI program evaluations and studies that have been conducted over the years.

 Fatherhood Research:

  • Father Facts Sample, sharable father absence statistics, infographics about father absence and its effects
  • National surveys on fathers’ and mothers’ attitudes on fathers/fatherhood
  • Recruitment Ideas for Fatherhood Programs

Evaluation Instruments:

  • The Father Friendly Check-Up™
  • FRPN Research Measures for fathers’ challenges, father engagement level, co-parenting relationships, father-child relationships, and more

Case Studies:

  • A collection of studies showing how NFI programs and resources have been implemented in a variety of family and social service settings

eBooks:

  • e/books on how fatherhood programming integrates into community-based organizations, corrections, county and state agencies
  • Guides to Mentoring Fathers and Fatherless Children
  • Cutting Edge Ideas to Super-Charge your Fatherhood Program
  • How to Train Female Staff to Effectively Engage Fathers
  • How to Start a Direct Service Fatherhood program… and more!

On-Demand Webinars:

  • Fundraising for Fatherhood Programs
  • How to Use the Father Friendly Checkup™
  • Cutting Edge Tips for Running an Exceptional Fatherhood Program
  • Practical Tips to Engage Fathers in Home Visits… and more!

PSA’s and Stories of Impact Videos:

  • Father involvement PSA’s from past years that can be shared to enhance the message(s) in a presentation or fatherhood program session
  • Inspirational and educational videos telling the stories of individuals and organizations that have been impacted by NFI’s fatherhood skill-building programs and resources

Now it’s time for you to dig around and find what will help you and your fatherhood program!

We hope that these and future resources continue to help you meet the needs of the fathers and families you serve. Thank you for all that you do.

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Domestic violence is one of the tragic situations that you might have faced in service of families.

But what, exactly, constitutes domestic violence?

The United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) defines domestic violence and its associated behaviors as:

 …a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.

USDOJ goes on to further define the various kinds of abuse.

When it comes to the civil and criminal actions, however, did you know that nearly every state and U.S territory has its own statute that defines domestic violence? Further, did you know that definitions for civil and criminal actions differ?

Each state and territory uses the civil definition to help victims obtain protection orders and access protective services. It uses the criminal definition for actions that can lead to arrest and prosecution of alleged perpetrators.

Knowing what describes domestic violence generally and how your state or territory defines domestic violence in civil and criminal actions specifically will help you to more effectively serve dads who can be perpetrators or victims. While more women than men are victims of domestic violence, the difference is not as large as you might think.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), when it comes to physical violence, for example:

  • 1 in 3 women are victims of some form compared to 1 in 4 men

  • 1 in 4 women are victims of severe forms compared to 1 in 7 men

What makes domestic violence so tragic is its effects not only on the victims but on the children exposed to and who witness it. The NCADV states that 1 in 15 are exposed to it, and 90 percent of those witness it. Witnessing domestic violence is considered an “adverse childhood experience” with all of its negative outcomes.

To bone up and increase your knowledge of domestic violence, thoroughly review the resources provided by the USDOJ and the NCADV. In addition, use the following resources and organizations.

National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) also provides the Understanding Domestic Violence™ Booster Session, a three-part workshop you can use as a stand-alone service to dads or as an add-on to any fatherhood program. It raises dads’ awareness of what is domestic violence and how to spot the signs of it in themselves and others. Many organizations use it to help meet the requirements of a domestic violence component in their work with dads.

If you are ever concerned that someone you serve is a victim of domestic violence, refer them to the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) for immediate crisis assistance.

How often have you suspected someone you serve is a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence?

Does your organization have a domestic violence protocol that guides staff in how to handle suspected cases?

 

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When it comes to helping dads understand how they can be involved, one of the areas that requires father involvement is monitoring children and teens’ use of social media.

As adults we know that social media has a way of “taking over” time and attention before we even realized what has happened. So it’s imperative that we educate and equip our children and teens with helpful information and learning opportunities along their journey into the world of social media and app usage. 

I came across a unique article by the Wall Street Journal that shared several helpful perspectives on this exact subject. What makes the tips even more interesting and applicable is that they’re coming from technology expert parents themselves – parents with careers in recognizable companies like Adobe and Cisco Systems.

The experts not only gave tips on what to do with teens, but the “why” behind the what’s, and how going beyond parental controls to help teens make informed judgments themselves, helps to prepare them for the adult world.

The following are 3 areas that the experts covered.

1. Teach Decision-Making:

  • Teach responsibility without parental-control apps or filters by helping teens learn judgment through participating in creating limits and boundaries for themselves on the frequency and level of social media use.
  • Ask teens to let you know when they’re taking breaks from homework to check social media so parents can help to determine if the breaks are too often.
  • Help teens plan ahead for homework, sports engagements, sleep, etc. without letting social media unknowingly take over their time and schedule.
  • Encourage teens to think about everything they post as their “personal brand”; discuss how they want their personal brand to look and how they want it to represent themselves.

“No amount of monitoring is going to teach responsibility or judgment” -Steven Aldrich, GoDaddy chief product officer.

 2. Always Keep a Watchful Eye:

  • Check privacy settings on all apps teens use on a regularly timed basis (e.g. every 3 month, 6 months, etc.)
  • Help teens understand how app developers use ads or other tricky pop-ups to collect information or encourage the user to take an action (and especially ones that seek personal or location information).
  • Converse with teens about the “demands” their culture has created around social media (for example, responding immediately to other’s posts), and how that affects them and their self-esteem.
  • Have teens ask permission before downloading apps; help them by having them explain why and how the app will be beneficial to them in order to get approval.

Michelle Dennedy, chief privacy officer at Cisco Systems, checks privacy settings every six months on the apps she and her daughters use on their smartphones.

 3. Continue to Monitor Closely (for teens and younger children, too):

  • Consider restricting screen time to a certain amount of time on certain days.
  • Depending on the child’s age, have videos stream on the family TV rather than on a private device.
  • Set YouTube on “restricted mode” to prevent unwanted/undesirable content.
  • Have children/early teens start with a flip phone for the purpose of calls and texts only, then graduate to a smartphone with social media capabilities as they mature and as you help them understand responsible social media use.
  • Teach kids the concepts behind the things they are doing (i.e. unintended or hidden consequences), as well as the “why” behind the things you are not letting them do (create a learning opportunity rather than simply a “no”).
  • Ask kids to think about why they are posting what they are posting on social, and help them understand that anyone can identify a person’s location and time of posting (and that this is not information you want just anyone to have).


“When you think about posting something, the questions are, ‘What do you hope to achieve by publishing it? Why does this need to be viewable to the world?” -Adobe’s chief security officer Brad Arkin -- to his son.

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Is it “noncustodial” or “non-custodial?” When you refer to a parent without sole custody of their child, should you use a hyphen or not?

No.

According to the Chicago Manual of Style, you shouldn’t use a hyphen with any “non” word unless there is a clear reason, such as to avoid doubling a letter (e.g. non-native).  Indeed, the Merriam-Webster definition of the word doesn’t include a hyphen.

Frankly, I think it’s fine to use a hyphen. Whether you write “noncustodial” or “non-custodial,” a reader will understand what you mean.

What’s clearly not acceptable is when noncustodial dads are clueless about the laws and bureaucratic systems associated with child support. For those of us who serve these dads, it’s vital to educate them about child support so they can meet this financial obligation and afford their child support payments.

That’s easier said than done. How many of us who serve dads know the ins and outs of child support? Where do you find information on child support that’s easy to digest? Where do you find the most critical information to know about child support?

Fortunately, the Center for Family and Policy Practice offers the free Top 10 Points for Noncustodial Parents Dealing with the Child Support System video and downloadable handout.

The first five points are:

  1. Find out as much as you can about the caseworkers and court representatives you meet with—their titles, their power to make decisions, and their power to change decisions.

  2. The court can proceed with your case if you don’t show up for a court hearing.

  3. Make certain that you understand any document you sign.

  4. Know the consequences of signing a document before you sign it.

  5. Visitation and custody are separate processes that the child support agency may not handle.

Use this resource to educate the noncustodial dads you serve.

For another great resource that educates noncustodial dads on child support and other critical issues many of them face, acquire the FatherTopicsTM Collection for Non-Custodial Dads Booster Sessions. (Yep…we used a hyphen.) Use them as stand-alone workshops or integrate them with 24/7 Dad®, 7 Habits of a 24/7 Dad™, or any other fatherhood program.

 How much do the noncustodial dads you serve know about the child support system?

 How much do you and your fellow staff know about the child support system?

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In working with fathers and families, it can be helpful to address some basics before trying to address the myriad of other challenges fathers may face.

Those “basics” include what it means to be a man and father. You see, the key to developing good fathers is to first develop good men. The most effective fatherhood programs seek to build the man before focusing on fathering skills, and your job is to help men understand that they must first work on themselves before, or at least at the same time, as they work on their fathering skills. I’ve included a short video at the end of this post to help you get the conversation started with the dads you serve.  But before that let me expand.

Have you ever put together a model airplane? The idea was that if you followed the instructions, your model should have looked like the picture on the box. Unfortunately, your model might not have looked like the picture, because pieces were missing or you didn’t thoroughly read or follow the instructions.

Learning what it means to be a man and father works the same way. Men learn from their parents and culture a model for how a man and father should look and act. This model comes with instructions that help men grow into the “right kind” of man or father. As boys grow into an adult, this model becomes a part of who they are. It guides their decisions and actions from that point forward. It guides them in how to treat themselves (i.e. their physical, emotional, and spiritual health), their children, and women and wives/mothers of their children. Men in all cultures learn some very good things and, unfortunately, some not so good things about being a man and father.

If you already run our 24/7 Dad® A.M. program, then you know that one of the first two sessions is titled “What it means to be Man”. It helps facilitators discuss different views of masculinity and the character traits dads think best reflect today’s ideal of masculinity. Dads also discuss what it means to be a dad, the traits they most and least admire in men, and the traits of masculinity they would like model for their children.

Likewise, in our 17 Critical Issues to Discuss with Dads downloadable guide, the second topic covers fatherhood and masculinity.

The guide also provides you with questions to probe the dads on the subject like:

  • How have I been affected by what my parents and culture taught me about being a man?
  • What did I learn about character from my father (or father figure)? What did I learn that was good? What did I learn that was not so good?
  • What are five character traits that I can begin working on right now to become a better dad?
  • Which traits do I want to pass on to my children? Which traits do I not want to pass on?

As you can see, we think discussing what it means to be a man is a pretty important step in your work with fathers. And as you can imagine, the dads you serve will have many different opinions and definitions on the subject.

I decided to write this blog when I recently came across a short video clip from a gentleman in a health-focused Facebook group that I belong to. His name is William Francis, and he lives in Dallas, TX.  In the clip, he shares his definition of what it means to be a man.

When I asked William if I could share his video, he was pleased and explained, “I feel like this clip pretty much says what I want to share with men about being a good man/father. I know from a son’s point of view that being a man is more than just being a leader – it’s also being a follower, giver, lover, and a person who shares struggles, successes, accomplishments, hurtles, and emotions. There are tons of things I could say to help, but you have to personally make the choice to be a ‘real man’.”

Feel free to use this video with the fathers you serve to help get the conversation started on this topic!
Wishing you much success in your work engaging fathers, and thank you for all that you do.

 

 

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In my nearly two decades of work with National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), I’ve seen growth in the number of organizations and types of programs that seek to become father friendly.

Nowhere has that growth pleased me more than in programs focused on the health of mothers and infants, commonly referred to as maternal and infant health (MIH) programs. That’s because these programs have, unfortunately, left dads out of the equation when it comes to enhancing the health of moms and infants, despite a large body of literature that shows how important dad’s involvement is to the health of mom and baby during the prenatal and postnatal periods.

Fortunately, some forward-thinking healthcare professionals have recognized this glaring omission. They’ve taken up the call to help MIH programs become more father friendly by sharing ideas on how to effectively engage dads.  One of the best sources of such ideas is a guide from the Maternal and Infant Health Center of Excellence at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. It answers the following questions.

  • Why involve dads in maternal and infant health?
  • What are some of the barriers to dads’ participation in MIH programs?
  • What are some promising strategies for engaging dads in MIH programs?

 Moreover, it includes these seven steps to engage dads.

  1. Identify the type(s) of dads you want to serve. (Hint: “All dads” isn’t a type of dad.)
  2. Create a father-friendly (i.e. welcoming) environment.
  3. Identify how and where you will reach and communicate with dads.
  4. Create and deliver dad-specific messages.
  5. Identify the activities or programs that will engage dads, and how and when you’ll conduct them.
  6. Identify the individuals and organizations with which to partner. Identify those that can refer dads to your program and that can provide services and resources to dads in need.
  7. Evaluate your effort, such as outreach and marketing tactics that work and don’t work, and whether activities and programs increase dads’ involvement.

The guide goes into more detail on each of these steps. It also covers training staff to engage dads and activities and programs that engage dads.

If you run, work in, or work with a MIH program—or any healthcare setting for that matter—download and read the guide. Pair it with NFI’s free 7 Steps to Starting a Successful Fatherhood Program ebook for even more ideas on how to get a father-friendly MIH program off the ground! Share both of these resources with others who might benefit from them.

Do you run, work in, or partner with MIH programs?

Do you know of MIH programs in your community that could stand to be more father friendly?

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What comes to mind when you hear the word “community?"

Merriam-Webster starts its definition with the phrase “a unified body of individuals,” and offers a number of examples. One of those examples is particularly relevant for work with dads:

 “A body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society.”

You are part of a community of professionals, scattered across the country, dedicated to serving dads, united to improve child well-being.

The challenge for members of any professional, dispersed community is how and where to gather to discuss their interests—to share and learn from one another. They need a place to gather that is easy to use and affordable.

Enter the Father Engagement Learning Community™, the nation’s only peer-to-peer free, online platform for professionals who serve dads. Since National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) launched it in March 2017, membership has grown rapidly to more than 1,200! An average of more than 25 professionals have joined every week.

If you’re not part of this community, you’re missing out on a fantastic opportunity to:

  • Connect with others who run fatherhood programs and initiatives.
  • Learn strategies and tactics to address the most vexing challenges and pain points in serving dads, such as funding, recruitment and retention, and engaging the community.
  • Ask for and learn about creative resources for work with dads.
  • Connect with others who serve dads in similar settings.
  • Connect with others who use NFI's fatherhood programs and other resources.
  • Share your own and learn from others’ successes.

The community also gives you access to exclusive content and advice from NFI staff. We share content and advice that you won’t find anywhere else.

It has been my privilege to moderate the community. My primary job is to ensure that the community is as valuable as possible. To make it valuable, I have added and eliminated "discussion boards" to focus it on the most relevant content for your work with dads. There are now 16 discussion boards that cover topics that most interest professionals across the country.

Don't delay in becoming part of the Father Engagement Learning Community™! It's easy to register and get started learning from others so you can do an even better job in serving dads.

  • Go to fatherhood.org to register. Click on the “Community” link in the top right corner of our home page.
  • After you register, simply bookmark NFI's Home Page to access it, or bookmark the community itself for one-click direct access.

And, after you register, be sure to click on the "How to Participate" link at the top of the community home page should you need assistance learning how to participate.

Are you part of the Father Engagement Learning Community™?

Could you use free advice and guidance from your peers who serve dads?

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Last week we gave you the U.S. Maternal and Child Health Care Bureau definition of children and youth with special health care needs, how many children fit this definition, what percentage of families have a child with a special health care need and covered our first 5 tips for how to be of help when working with these dads. If you missed it, you can find it here.

Below you’ll find an additional 5 tips. 

Tips 6-10: How to help dads of children with special health care needs.

6. Help Them to be Advocates
It’s not unusual for those who work with families who have children with special health care needs to seek input from family members on many issues related to the work they do. This could be regarding services provided, medical treatment, educational curriculum, and communication efforts - the list goes on. And, although the balance is getting a bit better, the ones who usually do things like offer feedback, sit on panels, and talk to legislators are women. Often the fathers voice isn’t sought out and when it is it can be difficult to get dads involved. There are many possible reasons for this, anything from work schedules to family schedules. But, the male perspective is often different and communicated in a different way. It’s important for that voice and that perspective to be heard. Help the dads that you work with to be prepared and trained to tell their story, to advocate for their family and for other families. And, then help them find opportunities to tell that story.

 7. Needs and Questions Change as Children Get Older
The needs and questions of a dad of a newborn will naturally be different from a dad whose child is now an adult. Have resources or referrals available to help dads wherever their children are on that age continuum. As was mentioned in part 1, help dads connect to other dads and make those connections with dads whose children are at a similar age or developmental level. 

8. Self-Care
Having a child with special health care needs can be a wonderful experience but can also be time consuming, tiring and stressful. Carving out time during the day or the week for him, for the relationship that dad has with mom, and the relationship he has with friends are crucially important. It may be difficult to do but giving his life some balance will help him be a better dad.  Help dad to understand the importance of finding time for himself and his relationships.

 9. Be Strong, Be Vulnerable
Many men are still raised to and feel the social pressure of being the “man” of the house. Have a job, make sure there’s money for the bills, fix what’s broken and don’t unburden yourself on the woman in the relationship. This feeling of being strong for the family can feel especially profound for a dad who has a child with special health care needs. All this isn’t necessarily bad but can create an environment where dad doesn’t feel that he can express a need that he has. Help dad and the family to understand the benefits of dad being able to express his needs, of being vulnerable enough to ask for help.

 10. Don’t Forget the Importance of Moms in Encouraging Dads to Seek Support 
As mentioned, dads are often not very good at seeking support. Often it is at the encouragement of the mom that dads will attend a support group meeting, attend a conference or workshop or go to a social gathering. So, consider including moms in communications (e.g. newsletters, emails, social media postings) to dads.

If you have questions or comments about any of the tips, additional tips or run a program supporting dads who have children with special needs - we’d love to hear from. Please contact Louis Mendoza at louis.mendoza@kindering.org.

The Washington State Dad Affiliates is currently made up of the following organizations:

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