Fatherly advice: Alexandria program offers parental guidance in West Central regionWhen one door closes, another opens. In this case, the open door will help fathers be a bigger part of their children’s lives. Wings in Alexandria has preserved the Otter Tail County Father’s Project by consolidating the program with the non-profit organization’s existing Father’s Support program and creating the West Central Father’s Resource Project. The service previously provided in Otter Tail County has been discontinued.
By: Crystal Dey, Alexandria Echo Press
When one door closes, another opens. In this case, the open door will help fathers be a bigger part of their children’s lives.
They’ll have access to assistance with visitation mediation and advice on legal issues involving parenthood and child support procedures.
Wings in Alexandria has preserved the Otter Tail County Father’s Project by consolidating the program with the non-profit organization’s existing Father’s Support program and creating the West Central Father’s Resource Project. The service previously provided in Otter Tail County has been discontinued.
While Wings intends to continue serving fathers statewide, and existing clients, the primary benefactors of the new program’s services will be men in Becker, Clay, Douglas, Grant, Otter Tail, Pope, Stevens, Todd, Traverse, Wadena and Wilkin counties. If a father is a resident of one of the 11 counties, or if a case involving his child originated in one of the counties, a father can use the resource.
However, Wings Father’s Program Coordinator Mike Klein said the program is always open to other counties and that it truly has been a statewide initiative.
“We’re not going to close doors to current clients,” Klein said. “If the 11 counties are a success, we could expand.”
THE FATHER’S PROGRAM
In 2008, Wings created a father’s program that primarily served Douglas County. The project was piloted by Wings Executive Director Dorie Twist, who had observed the complexities fathers were having in the courts. Twist was a guardian ad litem for children’s interests in the 1990s.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the responsible fatherhood movement began in the U.S. The movement sought to overcome barriers of income, race and politics; it has grown into educational and social service programs. In 1991, the first fathers’ resource center opened its doors in Minneapolis.
Wings aims to enhance the services it offers currently and sustain the program despite decreasing grant revenues. Funding for the program will come from contractual agreements with social service departments in individual counties and from private entities.
The Otto Bremer Foundation has given Wings a $70,000 grant to be used over two years. The United Way has also made contributions, Twist said.
The Father’s Resource Project is a support advocacy program; a place for fathers to turn when they have questions about how to proceed with establishing recognition of parenthood, visitation rights, child support issues and mediation when a peaceable relationship does not exist between the father and mother of a child.
“In some instances it is overwhelming,” Klein said.
Oftentimes, fathers don’t know that establishing paternity is not the same as guaranteeing parental rights. Recognition of parenthood gives a father – or mother – the right to ask for his or her rights. Minnesota state statute requires that a request be made for visitation, Klein said. Although the program is targeting men, women are invited to use the service as well.
Klein said the program guides fathers through the legal process and explains the why and how questions that arise with procedures. Usually, a father goes through the court process representing himself, and needs support and advice. Klein added that it can take anywhere from six months up to years before a father’s rights are granted.
Additionally, payment or non-payment of child support is not a reason to – or not to – have visitation, Klein said. Aside from word-of-mouth exposure, Wings relies on child support agencies, social services and legal services offices to make referrals and let people know such services are available through Wings.
A FATHER’S INFLUENCE
Statistics have shown that a father’s involvement in a child’s life helps prevent behavioral deviancies such as delinquency, substance abuse, truancy and depression. In correlation with the relationship, a father who is more active in a child’s life is more apt to pay child support.
Lower income fathers generally place a higher emphasis on active parenting behaviors such as time spent with a child, playtime and monitoring the child’s well-being.
“It’s really about what’s in the child’s best interest,” Twist said.
A co-parenting relationship is needed between the child’s parents to cultivate a healthy environment in which to grow; the Father’s Resource Project aids in developing this bond.
Klein said it is the father’s duty to help the mother be the best mother she can be for the children. The Father’s Program provides neutral territory for exchange of a child between mother and father.
“There is a huge need for supervised visitation,” Klein said.
Also, after time, the relationship between father and child needs to be rebuilt. Visitation centers help with the transition.
Ideally, the organization would like to establish an office in every county it serves. Currently there is only a presence in Douglas and Otter Tail counties. Klein and Mike Anderson, a new addition to the Wings team, will rotate days in all 11 counties within the West Central region to provide as much one-to-one face-time as possible. A volunteer program is also in the works.
Wings was named “Agency of the Year” in 2011 and the Otter Tail Wadena Father’s Program was awarded “Program of the Year” by Minnesota Families and Father’s Network. The organization was recently given state funding for the next five years from the Office of Justice Program for PLUS Kids Parenting Time Center.
For more information on Wings and the Father’s Program, call (320) 763-6638 or visit www.wingsfamilyservices.com. Wings is a member of the Minnesota Fathers and Families Network. Information can be found at www.mnfathers.org.
67.8 million – estimated fathers in the U.S.
25.8 million – married fathers with children younger than 18
1.7 million – single fathers
71 percent of children eat dinner with their fathers
53 percent of children eat breakfast with their fathers
34 percent of children live absent their biological fathers
Provided by www.fatherhood.gov.