Fatherhood Initiative helps reconnect dads with their kids

Saturday June 22, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Plenty of dads are doing a great job and are a positive force in the lives of their children and family, but a lot more dads could be doing more and better, said Mike Mrowicki of Putney.

Mrowicki is a member of the Vermont Fatherhood Initiative, a group of professionals that includes representatives from the Department of Children and Families, private local agencies such as Visiting Nurses of Colchester and Early Education Services and dads who want to help make a difference so their children can have a better future.

"Our work is creating a culture where the expectation for all dads is to be a responsible, positive presence in the lives of their children," said Mrowicki, who represents Putney, Dummerston and Westminster in the Vermont House of Representatives.

On June 12 in Montpelier, Mrowicki was one of 150 people participating in fatherhood conference discussing ways to make it easier for fathers to become more involved in their children’s lives.

"We are not angry dads," he said. "This is not about custody or child support issues. This is about educating dads and creating a culture for dads to participate and be a better part in their kids’ lives."

The Fatherhood Initiative is also a way to celebrate the dads who are doing a good job by being a positive role model and by being involved with their children as they grow up, said Mrowicki.

Topics of discussion include strategies for engaging dads; an overview of the services provided by the Office of Child Support and the pilot program Work 4 Kids, the challenges facing single dads raising daughters, "The Boy Code," how to be a nurturing father, how to be a dad but play like a kid, domestic violence, and the teen brain.

"In a lot of cases, dads are struggling and they need resources," said Mrowicki.

Windham County is one of the better areas of Vermont to be a dad, he said, because it has a great program in the Dedicated Dads and Training Camp for New Dads through Brattleboro’s Early Ed Services, which is coordinated by Don Trentler, said Mrowicki.

But not all areas of the state as so well-positioned. At the end of the conference, the participants broke out into regional groups and set the framework in place to start hosting regular meetings in their areas.

"We want to identify best practices and spread them across the state," said Mrowicki.

A big task the initiative would like to tackle is how to break down the institutional barriers that stand between men and their children, especially in divorce and blended family situations. These barriers often exclude dads from everyday activities such as school conferences and home visits from parent educators.

Mrowicki, who is the father of a 31-year-old and a 28-year-old, said he looks at the initiative as a way to share some of the knowledge he has accrued over the years.

"Today is a different landscape from when I was a stay-at-home dad," he said. "There’s a recognition that dads need to be a positive part of their kids’ lives."

Along with the discussions, there was a presentation by Gale Burford, PhD, MSW, Professor of Social Work and Director of the Child Welfare Training Partnership at the University of Vermont, who spoke about child and youth care, family engagement and restorative practice.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.


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