Kindering has provided services for children with special needs and their families since 1962. Under the Kindering umbrella, the Fathers Network began to provide specific support for fathers in 1978, when it was known as the Fathers Program. The Fathers Network assists dads in becoming more competent and compassionate caregivers for their children with special needs. The program provides resources, information, and education; coordinates social activities for fathers and families; and facilitates biweekly discussion groups for dads. The program also offers referrals to family therapists who themselves have children with special needs, and holds a five-week group series, Unexpected Journey, for new mothers and fathers.
The University of Washington-Bothell conducted a 2012 survey of 146 Fathers Network participants. The study found that program participation had several positive effects:13
- Anxiety decreased ‒ 97%
- Feelings of hopelessness decreased ‒ 57%
- Enthusiasm toward their child increased ‒ 69%
- Feelings of joy increased ‒ 67%
- Family relationships improved ‒ 77%
- Having someone to relate to increased ‒ 80%
Family Connection provides support for families of children with special needs in South Carolina. The program organizes family events and provides topical workshops for dads. Since 2003, Family Connection also has trained fathers to work with other fathers as supportive coaches or mentors. The Family Connection Fathers Network supports fathers and families raising children who have developmental delays, disabilities, or chronic illness, and empowers these fathers to be actively engaged in their children’s lives.
A 2009 survey of 109 Family Connection participants indicated that the fathers were particularly interested in:14
- Information about taxes, Medicaid, health insurance, nutrition, respite care, transition out of school, and ways to advocate for their children.
- Help dealing with financial issues, therapies for their children, housing, and employment.
- Skills to deal with relationship stress, improve communication, and resolve conflict.
- Parenting skills to handle discipline, behavior management, and sibling issues.
- Ways to create circles of support with family members and friends.
Dads 4 Special Kids15
Dads 4 Special Kids of Phoenix, Arizona, operates under four key principles:
- We can learn from each other.
- There is strength in numbers.
- We can share experiences and validate each other’s journey.
- We have to take care of ourselves and our relationships.
Dads 4 Special Kids provides advocacy for dads, monthly support meetings, dad-to-dad support, and marriage and relationship support. The program’s goals include helping parents learn to manage stress and communicate better through additional counseling and guidance. The program recognizes that many parents lose their personal identities and relationship priorities because their child with special needs receives so much attention. Therefore, the program is planning a couple’s component to offer a series of three-hour workshops for groups of four to six couples to focus attention on them as individuals and relationship partners.