As we approach Fathers’ Day, we’re reflecting on a project we’ve been working on at SCAN over the last several months to place special emphasis on engaging men, particularly (but not limited to!) fathers, in preventing family violence. One of our Master of Social Work interns this year compiled research around how to connect with, value, and engage fathers in the important roles of raising children, connecting with kids, and strengthening families. You can review the white paper summarizing her research here.
Then, in March, we invited LaMar Henderson to speak from his own experience as a son, father, and social worker interacting with dads and families from all walks of life. The very personal experiences he shared about having, as he put it, “three moms” (his biological mom, an aunt who helped raise him, and a foster mom) as well as the intermittent relationship he had with his biological dad opened a window for all of us. As I told Lamar after the event, so many attendees later commented to me on what a model of resilience he is. He inspired us to remember that the children we work with and worry about can overcome, can emerge into loving responsible role models for the rest of us. Working in child welfare requires that we acknowledge childhood pain and its lingering effects while also celebrating resilience and the adults who have overcome early traumas and difficult life circumstances. We thank LaMar for his willingness to be vulnerable and welcome others into his story in a way the helps us better empathize with many of the children with whom we work.
LaMar’s story exemplified the conflictive relationships many children (and adults!) have with parent figures and yet also how most kids truly crave relationships with their biological parents no matter what their experiences. As a community, we need to find creative ways to keep children safe but still cultivate those connections that are so important to a child’s evolving identity, connection to heritage, and sense of self. We also need to be flexible in engaging informal supports around a child at-risk, recognizing that non-traditional “parent figures” can be powerful positive forces in a child’s life, especially when those special adult relationships don’t usurp a parent’s role but rather support and add to the variety of adult-child relationships and connections that help a child mature, build social-emotional skills, and truly thrive.
Through support from Verizon, SCAN has developed special outreach materials with tips for dads on connecting with kids (see a rack card and fact sheets here to share), and later this month — airing on Father’s Day — we’ll have a special Parenting Today radio show focusing on the special father-child relationship.
In the human services field, we often hesitate to emphasize the valuable impact a positive father-child relationship can have because we know some children don’t have that opportunity due to an absent father or a father relationship that just isn’t safe or healthy. Instead, we need to dig in and be creative as a community in how we support all children, knowing that Kids Need Connections. How can we encourage moms–especially single moms–to intentionally foster their children’s other adult relationships in safe ways, to understand that encouraging the relationship with an estranged dad, an uncle, a coach, a teacher, a pastor, an employer doesn’t detract from her role and relationship with the child but, as long as done safely, can be critically important as that child grows? How do we honor the unique role step-dads can have – understanding its awkwardness sometimes but also encouraging healthy, positive, safe engagement with that child?
After the luncheon where LaMar spoke, he shared with me…
“As you know, victims typically grapple with an emotional dilemma: Abuse made me who I am, or I am a victim of abuse. Your work at SCAN lets people be victims, but does not let the abuse define them or steal their voices. Your transforming message is invaluable as these casualties of pain develop into triumphant cheerleaders for justice and unconditional love. Your efforts continuously provide a platform for people to hold themselves and others accountable in the face of child maltreatment. Moreover, it provides families the environment to grow and heal together. I want to humbly thank you again for giving me the opportunity to hold people accountable and be the cheerleader for physical and emotional justice in Stopping Child Abuse Now!”
May all of us involved at SCAN – staff, board, volunteers, donors, parents, and families – strive to live up to the ideal LaMar describes. As you prepare for Fathers’ Day – whatever this day means to you, I hope you will join SCAN in continuously striving for an “environment for families to grow and heal together.”
Happy Fathers’ Day!
– Sonia Quiñónez, Executive Director
SCAN of Northern Virginia