Parenting Programs Turn to Fathers

Rico feeds Royalty
Rico Lowe gives his four-month-old daughter, Royalty, a bottle.

Chris Gibson spends his days visiting new fathers and their tiny babies. He’s a fathering coach and offers help that’s increasing in demand — teaching dads in low income neighborhoods about the ins and outs of infants.

I have family from some of the roughest and toughest parts of the city so I relate to our families because I’m a Richmond native.

The Contra Costa County First Five agency has had a successful parent coaching program for years. But like many child development programs they focused on women – until now, says Early Childhood Development program officer, Lisa Morrell.

Women traditionally have been the partner who stays home with the kids and we saw things shift significantly with the economic downturn and when dad’s all of a sudden were home and moms were more employable and we started to see more dad’s coming out with their kids.

Once she realized the program needed to engage more fathers Morrell expanded their hours to evenings and weekends.

And then we realized that we are a female dominated program service delivery and we could offer services to men but they were very polite and not necessarily accepting and we realized we need to have male home visitors.

So she hired two men to start engaging fathers.

Rico and Royalty Lowe outside with Chris Gibson
Rico Lowe soothes his daughter Royalty with help from his fatherhood coach Chris Gibson in Richmond.

I recently met up with one of their new fatherhood coaches, Chis Gibson on the way to meet one of the fathers he works with in Richmond.

You know I go to trainings and literally I’m one of two guys there, in most cases I’m the only African American there and it’s like if you want to engage fathers you need more men in the industry.

There were two fathers at the first parenting event he went to and before Gibson got there, they were in with the mothers.

And it was funny because while they were there, they were talking but they wasn’t themselves. So when I came in and got em it was like I opened up the can and everything came out.

Once that can of worms was open Gibson realized that the fathers had different concerns from the mothers.

With most of my clients now they just wanna know how can you help me get a job, can you help with this. For men it’s real big because you know it’s ingrained in us to be a provider to be a protector and if we’re not doing one of those things we feel like less of a man.

But beyond providing for the family financially, Gibson said a lot of the fathers he works with aren’t entirely comfortable with the caregiving, the diaper changing and feeding and meeting the basic needs of an infant.

We tracked down his client Rico Lowe and his four-month-old daughter Royalty at his apartment in Richmond. Lowe normally works as a welder but he isn’t working now because of an on-the-job injury. He and his girlfriend split the caregiving 50/50. Gibson says Lowe was a natural caregiver, unlike most of his other clients.

Baby cries

Lowe: Baby

Gibson: Which cry is that Rico?

Rico: Uh, time to go, I’m thinking she might need to be burped, if I go outside, she’s fine.

Gibson: That’s one of the things we try to teach our clients is that you are the expert on your child.

And Rico was right, all she wanted was to be outside, as soon as the sun was on her face she was all smiles.

Back at Contra Costa County First Five Lisa Morrell says that different home visiting programs focus on different things, some focus on health, others on school readiness, but their program focuses on parenting and childhood development.

The one statistic that always blows me away is a child’s brain develops 85 percent in the first 5 years. I mean that’s incredible right? So it makes sense, get in there early – do what you can and have a huge impact for that child’s rest of their life.

And research shows, that even just working with mothers, these type of home visiting programs have improved parenting practices and children’s cognitive development. But Morrell believes they can be even more effective by engaging fathers.

Research tells us that fathers are important. And they need to be a part of that child’s life for that child to thrive and be all that they can be.

And she’s been surprised by how receptive the father’s have been to what they have to offer.

For Rico Lowe, Royalty’s birth enriched and changed his life in ways he never imagined.

Gibson updates Lowe on upcoming events he’s arranging and possible Disney on Ice tickets- when Lowe interrupts him to put on classical music to soothe his daughter.

Gibson: I’m gonna try to make the Disney on Ice happen.

Lowe: Yeah that’d be the best thing going.  That’d be about the best thing that ever happened over here.  Disney on Ice sounds awesome.

Gibson: That’s gonna be tight man.

For the California Health Report, I’m Callie Shanafelt in Richmond.

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