Fatherhood program may fall to state spending cuts
By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Region - posted Tue., Mar. 22, 2011
The Norwich area may lose its prime resource for dads in need if Gov. Dannel Malloy’s budget is passed.
The governor’s 2012-13 budget proposal eliminates $32,500 in funding for Fatherhood Initiative programs at Madonna Place, a Norwich organization dedicated to strengthening families. If the program loses its state matching funds, additional federal funds will be lost, as well.
Dads in the Fatherhood Initiative programs at the site say that would be a grave loss for the region – and for them.
“It’s a really good program, and it’s needed,” said Greg Butts, of Griswold. “What other program is out there for dads? A lot of single dads don’t feel they’re worth it. Think about the poor kid who looks up and says, ‘Where’s my dad?’ What alternative does he have?”
The Fatherhood Initiative is a key component of the many social services provided by Madonna Place, said Executive Director Nancy Gentes. “Our goal is to help dads be fully involved, fully responsible fathers,” she said.
That means different things for different men, she said. Some may need help finding employment; some may need to work on skills like patience and consistency; some may need to work towards establishing visitation or child support. Madonna Place partners with other community service agencies to make it more possible for men “to step up to the plate and be the fathers [they] want to be,” said Gentes.
Among the programs offered by Madonna Place is “24/7 Dad,” a 13-week seminar on parenting skills ranging from money management, balancing work and family, to child development, understanding emotions and masculinity.
Though the programs are for dads, the real beneficiaries are the kids, said Gentes. Study after study has tied involved fathers to children’s self-esteem, academic success, and positive social behavior, she said. “Fathers are very, very important to children, and fatherlessness is a curable condition,” she said.
Matthew Williams, of Baltic, said that even though he’s been a dad for 16 years, the program has helped him immensely. “The biggest thing [I learned] is that it’s okay not to know how to handle every situation,” he said. The program helped him realize that “discipline isn’t punishment, it’s teaching them something,” he aid.
“I found that actually some of the experiences I’ve been through have let me help other dads in the program,” he added. “I always felt good to be a dad. Being here [at Madonna Place], I feel that much better.”
The staff members at Madonna Place, he said, “bend over backwards for you.” They’ve helped clients job-search, write resumes or just vent about the trials of fatherhood, he said.
Butts, another “24/7 Dad” graduate, also had high praise for the program staff, who helped him to find work and to navigate the court system on child support issues, even writing letters to the court on his behalf. “They care. They always follow up,” he said.
Butts said he signed up for “24/7 Dad” “because I wanted to become a better father,” and the program taught him ways to be a more responsible, sensitive, committed dad to his 3-year-old son. Those ways can be as serious as paying child support or as lighthearted a going fishing together.
“It’s all a new adventure. It’s all new to me,” said Butts. “I can’t wait to get him on weekends. [24/7 Dads] helps me keep my head on straight and do the right thing.”
The Fatherhood Initiative also presents “Dr. Dad” programs for new and expectant fathers in conjunction with Backus Hospital. The four-week classes focus on infant health, safety and development.
For a new dad confronted with a crying infant, that knowledge is invaluable, said “Dr. Dad” participant Matt Allingham, of Voluntown. “It gave me the tools and a little bit of knowledge that went a long way and gave me confidence,” he said.
He learned how to differentiate between different crying behaviors so he could better respond to and soothe his now four-month-old child. And, he said, the camaraderie with other dads “helped you feel you’re not alone.”
Gentes said that Madonna Place staff and many of its dads spoke to the governor when he spoke in Norwich on March 9, and traveled to Hartford to make the case for reinstating the $195,000 cut from the state budget, which funds the local program and five others across the state. Madonna Place would see $32,500 of that state money, plus additional funds from the federal government, Gentes said.
“President Obama’s plan right now is to extend the [federal] funding for four more years, and we’re hopeful that’s what will happen,” Gentes said. “It would really be a shame for the state to turn back $1 million in federal funding because of short-sightedness.”