When trying to define exactly what the Fathers Network does, I ran across a quote on their website that I found particularly telling:
“Good fathering flows from the realization that being a father is important, vital, demanding, rewarding, and risky. Telling your story of what it is like to be your father’s son and your child’s father to another father and another, and listening to their stories in return is ultimately the only school for fathering.”
-Lowell Streiker, Fathering: Old Game, New Rules
How true and beautifully described. And, from that basic idea, The Fathers Network grew to become a reality.
The concept for a formal support network just for fathers of kids with special needs came out of the good work being conducted at the Experimental Education Department at the University of Washington 30 years ago.
Perhaps we shouldn’t find it a complete surprise that at the same time and place with even some of the same people involved, another great Seattle born idea was also hatched; the world appreciated Sibling Support Project or Sibshops.
The Fathers Network founders knew there was a big need out there but also knew that men needed a unique approach. As the framework began to take shape, it was obvious that fathers had unique challenges connecting with other fathers of kids with special needs, they set out to develop a model to make it easier.
As a support system specifically designed for fathers of kids with special physical or developmental needs, it was the first of its kind in the nation. It immediately took off and has been blazing trails and doing great work ever since.
A non-profit organization, The Fathers Network is a program of the Kindering Center, and is funded by the Office of Children with Special Health Care Needs/Washington State Department of Health and private donations.
The Fathers Network has set the high water mark with their easy to understand curriculum and accessible training workshops making it possible for other organizations to incorporate their model with success. Although developed here in Washington, the model has been adopted and integrated into other states and two other countries.
I had the honor of interviewing Greg Schell, the director of The Fathers Network headquartered in Bellevue at the Kindering Center about his long time involvement. He was kind enough to fill me in on some of the benefits that dads find with this program.
How exactly does the program help dads?
The Fathers Network sees significant positive outcomes for dads who participate in the program for at least one year.
Fathers reported decreased isolation:
- Dads knew someone to call to talk about how things were going with their children.
- Dads knew somebody who understood what is was like to be the parent of a child with special health care needs or disability.
Fathers increased their access to resources and useful organizations:
- Dads exhibited increased knowledge about how to access organizations and valuable resources, such as speech therapy, mental health and educational services.
- Dads increased their ability and knowledge about how to access information regarding their child, and their child’s special health care needs.
- Fathers felt increasingly confident about being a father
- Dads increased knowledge about organizations and resources, improved their confidence about being a father.
- Fathers used healthy strategies for coping with stress
- Dads demonstrated significant use of healthy coping strategies to deal with stress while participating in WSFN. (This translates to less stress in the family and improved relationships for all members of the family.)
- Fathers were very satisfied with their participation in the WSFN
- Dads reported being overwhelmingly satisfied with their participation.
There are 15 active chapters through out Washington State. Check The Fathers Network website for contact information.
- Port Angeles
- Bellevue – Kindering Center
- Seattle – University of Washington EEU
- Seattle – Boyer Clinic
- Walla Walla
The curriculum and all training materials are available for any interested organization to purchase and adopt the program model. They offer workshops and trainings so that all who would like to bring The Fathers Network model to their community will find a lot of help making it happen.
Over the years, the model has been perfected, tried, encouraged and shared. We are lucky to have such a strong organization in our own backyard working so hard to help dads and their entire families.
Thank you, Fathers Network, for all the good work you do!