Baltimore City Head Start (BCHS) + Father Engagement (FE)

We know kids do better when fathers are involved. Research from organizations such as the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) and across the spectrum shows that positive father involvement supports better outcomes in childhood development. Whether it be the social and emotional wellbeing of children, lessening of criminal justice exposure and for our focus- the promotion of better school performance. Even more so, the age-old narrative of non-custodial (NC) fathers being negligent is just false. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) posits that many NC fathers are highly likely to be involved in the daily lives and activities of their children. The unfortunate truth is many fathers have a want to be present in the lives of their children, but systemic issues have played a part in hindering this reality from becoming mainstream knowledge.
Having a dad involved, especially during the most formative years is highly beneficial to the overall wellbeing of the child. Too often, entities such as Child Support, Family Court, or Schools ostracize the father, doing more of a disservice to the family unit. From the intake process to decisions made on behalf of the child, many entities are privy to knowing and working with mom more, if not at all, than dad. The Baltimore City Head Start + Father Engagement endeavor seeks to make father inclusion a priority.

Dr. Clinton Boyd (Executive Director, Fathers, Families & Healthy Communities)

In 2018, the Administration for Children and Families released an information memo, Integrating Approaches that Prioritized and Enhance Father Engagement to strongly encourage all human service agencies including child welfare agencies, courts, offices of child support enforcement, offices of public assistance, offices of child care, Head Start programs and family and youth services programs to work together across governments to jointly create and maintain an environment that prioritizes father engagement as a critical factor in strengthening families and adopt approaches to enhance paternal involvement in all family support and child welfare related programs.

The memo emphasizes the importance of meaningful father engagement in all Administration for Children and Families (ACF) programs to better serve children and families. The memorandum highlights research findings that demonstrate the value of father involvement in the lives of children and families and identifies promising practices to promote and sustain meaningful father engagement, regardless of a father’s physical location or custodial participation.In January 2022, the Ballmer Group awarded the Center for Urban Families a grant to develop a model for promoting active father engagement in Baltimore City Head Start, (BCHS) programs, with the goal of replication in Head Start programs nationwide, and eventually the broader field of early childhood and family support agencies and organizations. Currently, in year two of this proof-of-concept model, we are considering how to scale the mode, first in Baltimore and more broadly, in five years.

Our hope is to implement the model with BCHS to serve as a place-based proof of concept, concluding in an evidence-based plan and early distribution throughout the field. BCHS has emphasized a strong desire to increase fatherhood engagement, particularly considering the recent mandate issued by the Office of Head Start to incorporate fatherhood programming more centrally in Head Start services. Head Start has historically struggled to meaningfully engage fathers specifically during the past 2 years because of the COVID pandemic. BCHS has reported that even fewer fathers/father figures have participated in Head Start activities during this period.

This effort, in partnership with BCHS and MEF associates allows us to activate our Practitioners Leadership Institute (PLI) to implement, assess, and improve a model for organizational change within early childhood agencies and organizations that promotes the ongoing engagement of fathers for children’s success. This work leverages the extensive experience of CFUF in engaging fathers, the dedicated staff of BCHS, and the research and evaluation expertise of MEF associates in supporting this innovative model in both Head Start and fatherhood settings.

Engaging fathers in Head Start (HS) and Early Head Start (EHS) programs can have a deep impact on children, their families, and the community. Engaging fathers in HS/EHS centers across the country builds a lasting impact on fathers’ connection and involvement in their children’s development and well-being, leading to a larger impact on the family, as well as on the entire local community. HS has a long history of engaging male family members and father figures as important contributors to the school readiness of children and to the well-being of families and communities.

We encourage HS and EHS programs to continue to engage fathers as advocates and lifelong educators of their children in ways that meet the different needs of their individual families and communities. Investing in on-going professional development for staff to help them measure and evaluate how they work with fathers and examining cultural perspectives to improve their understanding of the unique needs and strengths of fathers are some of the ways in which we are working to engage fathers.

  • 1st image: Dr. Clinton Boyd (Executive Director, Fathers, Families & Healthy Communities)
  • 2nd Image: Shannon Burroughs– Campbell (Executive Director, Baltimore City Head Start Mayor’s Office of Children & Family Success)
    Cristina Schweon (Program Compliance Officer for Family & Community Engagement Baltimore City Head Start Mayor’s Office of Children & Family Success)