A Message from our Executive Director
We’re excited to bring back our newsletter, which we see as a great vehicle for keeping you, our stakeholders, informed about our organization—our programs, goals, achievements, partners, and of course our amazing staff and families. Each issue will center on one of the many elements that make Family Connections so unique and impactful, beginning with this issue’s theme of Father Engagement.
An “engaged father” is defined as one who “feels responsible for and behaves responsibly toward his child, is emotionally engaged and physically accessible, provides material support to sustain the child’s needs, is involved in childcare, and exerts influence in child rearing decisions.” (CalSWEC-Berkely.edu)
Being a parent myself of two boys, aged 4 and 1, I know that my view of being a “good father” has been shaped by my experience with my own dad. I am lucky that my father took time off to chaperone my field trips, drive me to and from school, and teach me to play soccer and baseball. Most importantly though, my dad taught me that sharing my emotions was a good thing, even if I felt angry or sad. He told me I should never hide how I truly feel. Now, when I see my four-year-old get frustrated, scared, or sad, I try to remember to encourage him to feel these emotions and find a way to work through them.
I am incredibly proud and grateful to be a part of an organization that emphasizes the importance of Father Engagement. I have attended our Daddy and Me events with my family, where I have witnessed some of the great fathers in our program interacting with their children. The joy shared between a father and child is so special and I know that the impact these experiences have on our families will live on for generations to come.
Eric Valladares (he/him/el)
Family Connections Executive Director
The Case for Father Engagement
The Family Connections program is built on community needs as well as current research around child development and success.
From both of these perspectives, Family Connections understands the importance of Father Engagement in supporting healthy child development. Research shows that high levels of father involvement are correlated with “higher levels of sociability, confidence, and self-control in children. Children with involved fathers are less likely to act out in school or engage in risky behaviors in adolescence’” (The Fatherhood Project). In turn, Father Engagement “impacts professional and career-based relationships, as well as personal ones” (all4kids.org). The short and long-term positive impacts of father involvement in children’s lives are clear.
To support these outcomes, as well as to respond to our participant families’ interests, Family Connections makes a point of providing opportunities for fathers to play, learn and grow with their families, such as “Daddy and Me” events and Parent Education sessions on this important topic.
Father Engagement in Action:
José Castellanos Builds a Train Play Structure at our Redwood City Site
A perfect example of father engagement in action is parent José Castellanos.
José’s daughter, Adrianna, has attended preschool at our Redwood City site with Teacher Nora for the past two years. José, who works as a handyman and has his own small business, wanted to use his skills to create something to show his gratitude for the program. He knew that children at Family Connections love play sets, love to climb, and love to play outside, so he and Teacher Nora came up with the idea of a play structure shaped like a train. This sounds like quite an undertaking, but José, who is as talented and dedicated as he is modest and generous, pulled off the project like a magician. He built the train—complete with a realistic-sounding horn—with his own spare materials and help from three of his own staff over the course of about 12 hours.
Needless to say, the kids all think the train is great!
And as if that wasn’t enough, José is already thinking about his next FC project: a gated outdoor play area so smaller children can play in a safe, contained space.
Parent Education Night on Father Engagement
Parent Education nights featuring expert presenters are one of the many ways that Family Connections supports whole-family growth. Usually held on the 2nd Tuesday of each month, these events, which were held in-person pre-pandemic and virtually for the past two years, provide valuable information and resources on topics which our families have expressed interest in knowing more about. The presentations are extremely popular, with an average of 40-50 parents attending.
A few of the rich spectrum of past topics and presenters have included:
1 Grain to 1000 Grains – Enhancing the health of under-resourced communities
Kidpower – Teaching child protection and personal safety skills to adults and children to prevent bullying, abuse, abduction, and other violence
Health Connect – Information on children’s physical health
Diana Hernandez Guerrero’s Presentation on Father Engagement
In March, the Parent Ed. Night was all about Father Engagement. Our speaker was Diana Hernandez Guerrero, a Father Engagement Specialist at StarVista, a family services organization headquartered in San Carlos. Diana has been trained in the 24/7 Dad Curriculum, an evidence-based program that helps train fathers in being involved, responsible, and committed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Diana provided a bilingual presentation on Father Engagement. Families were very engaged in this topic. Diana noticed that instead of following a traditional presentation format of a long speech followed by questions, families were more conversational and wanted to discuss a range of related topics, such as:
Involving fathers in family time
Benefits for the other partner when a father is involved
How father involvement impacts family dynamics
How can father foster healthy development in their children
The importance of role modeling
What happens when fathers are not present
Diana encouraged fathers to attend a Dad’s Hangout group that she facilitates through Star Vista. This is a space where fathers can virtually connect and learn new ways of parenting, share experiences, and develop self-awareness while strengthening their relationships with their children and their families.
The response from attendees was extremely positive.
In Their Own Words
“I have learned how to involve my husband more in my children’s education.”
Daddy & Me Events
Family Connections’ “Daddy and Me” program is a space for fathers to engage with their kids through barbecues, field trips, and more.
In our co-op classes, which are held on weekdays, we usually see mothers attend with the children because the fathers are often working full-time. Our Daddy & Me events are held on Saturdays or Sundays, alternating every month, to accommodate as many fathers’ schedules as possible. The purpose is to give fathers and male caregivers a set time to build their relationships with their children.
Veronica Rincón, who teaches FC Nurturing (ages 0-3) and Pre-K (ages 3-5) classes, is one of the Daddy and Me coordinators.
Teacher Veronica observes that “Father engagement is essential for children to develop a trusting relationship with their primary male caregiver. Male caregivers often bring a different sort of energy or presence than mothers do. In general, fathers tend to engage in and encourage physical play and taking risks, and can provide a different perspective and approach to problem solving. In addition, young boys benefit greatly from male role models.”
Over a dozen FC families attended the most recent Daddy and Me event, held on a Saturday at Red Morton Park in Redwood City. A big draw was the pot-luck barbeque, with enthusiastic dads (and moms!) helping at the grills. Family Connections staff, assisted by volunteer mothers and sons from the Young Men’s Service League, set up games including baseball, soccer, and an obstacle course. Activities at the events vary each time, from play-doh making to musical instrument exploration to building bird houses. The staff chooses activities that are developmentally appropriate for the kids but that also have aspects that fathers will enjoy, such as sports, building, or creating.
Father Engagement Staff Spotlight:
Associate Executive Director
Peter Ehrhorn, MA, LMFT
Associate Executive Director Peter Ehrhorn brings a wealth of knowledge, energy and dedication to the Family Connections program, including as a grant-writing virtuoso. Here, Peter discusses how his work and life are highly informed by the importance of Father Engagement.
Q: Peter, please describe your job at FC.
A: As the Associate Executive Director, I wear a few hats. I manage and write grants, support fund development efforts, oversee data and evaluations and partner with team members and partners for our Young Scholars program and mental health services. I also jump in there to support team members, organize, clean, and anything else this great organization needs.
Q: Did being a dad play a role in your interest in working at FC?
A: As a father of young children—Isabelle, 6 and Eliza, 3—I have seen with my own eyes what the inequities in early learning look like locally. My daughters have had the good fortune to engage in early learning preschool environments as early as 2 years old and I can see the positive impact early learning programming has had on their growth and development. When I learned about the significant gap that Family Connections fills regarding the inequities in early learning for under-resourced communities, I had to get involved. My belief is that every child deserves a healthy and equitable start to their education and Family Connections provides just that! If I had it my way, we would have a Family Connections program site in every community in the Bay Area and beyond. Our kids deserve the opportunity to enter kindergarten ready to rock!
Q: Any personal reflections on Father Engagement?
A: The research regarding the positive impact of father engagement speaks for itself. To me personally, father engagement is about laying the foundation in the early years, and finding as many opportunities as possible to connect with your child one-on-one. The inherent connection with moms is clear from the start (at least it is in my house), but I’ve noticed it is not as clear with dads. That said, I have learned that the connection is still there and our children seem to have a keen sense as to how we navigate our relationships with them: by watching us. In my experience as a father, I thought I had to work extra hard for my children to notice that I even existed, but I learned that I was wrong. They’ve always known I was there, they just didn’t outwardly show it in the way they did with their mother.
This idea was proven to me when I came home from work one time and saw my oldest engaged in a craft at her desk and my youngest playing in the living room. Immediately, my youngest daughter noticed me and ran to me, so I picked her up, gave her a big hug and asked all about her day. I then put down my things and carried on with my night. At bedtime, my oldest daughter said, “I’m sad because you didn’t say hi to me when you got home.” I was heart-broken. I did notice her, but didn’t want to interrupt her while she was working at her desk, and I didn’t even think she knew I was there! But she did. They always do.They may not show it, but the relationship they have with their Daddy matters. And I will never forget that day. From that moment on, I have never forgotten to give my children the recognition and time from me that they deserve.
Q: Have you applied anything you’ve learned from what you’ve done or observed at FC to your own parenting?
A: Absolutely. When families thrive, children thrive. I am constantly thinking about how important it is for Cynthia and me to take care of ourselves. If we don’t take care of our own physical and mental health, ongoing learning, and the power of our family/friend network (community), it will be that much harder to care for our children. When we prioritize our own health and the strength of our support networks while supporting our children’s healthy development, we know our kids will be so much better off in the short and long-term.