Parenting Course Helps Young Fathers Say 'It's My Child, Too'

September 18, 1997

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Young fathers, barely more than children themselves, are learning how to be good dads thanks to a Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service class on fathering called "It's My Child, Too."

"Many of the young men who need the program have no idea of what a father is, because they didn't have a role model," says Extension specialist Pam Robbins.

The fathering curriculum was developed at the request of judges who were seeing a growing number of paternity cases involving teen fathers. "They were telling us that these men simply had no concept of what it is to be a father," she says.

Not all the young men taking the course are absentee dads. "In addition to those sent by the courts, we have those who volunteer for the training," Robbins says. "Some judges have told them that if they take the course, the courts may look more favorably on them with regard to decisions such as visitation and custody of their children."

Six Indiana counties now offer the program: Allen, Clark, Clinton, Fayette, Miami and Porter. New counties will be added in May. The course is currently taught by volunteers in partnership with local extension educators.

During one session in a small-town community center, seven fathers sat around card tables and poured out heart-felt thoughts, frustrations, and hopes as they talked about being fathers.

"I get to see my son for three hours, two days a week. That's it." one young father says with a nervous, hand-wringing gesture and his head hanging low. "If his mom is late, the time comes out of my three hours." Another father adds, "My daughter is adorable, I just can't see her enough."

Robbins says young men like these want to know more about parenting including potty training, disciplining and handling confrontations with the mothers.

Robbins is state coordinator for Indiana Community Systemwide Response, an initiative that partners local Extension educators with their juvenile court judge or prosecutor. The idea is to steer troubled youngsters into Extension programs that might help them and to develop a communitywide plan for dealing with problems associated with teen-agers.

The fathering course was written by Purdue's Center for Families in the Department of Child Development and Family Studies with support from Purdue's Departments of Consumer and Family Sciences and 4-H/Youth. Pilot testing of the curriculum concluded last spring.

"It's My Child, Too" focuses on six major areas: If fathers take more responsibility, something that "It's My Child, Too" is designed to encourage, Robbins believes that it will reduce taxpayer costs associated with fatherless children and will produce children who are more responsive to growth and education.

However, this program is just the starting point in bolstering commitment to fatherhood. "Research clearly indicates that long-term, intensive programs are needed for significant change in parenting beliefs and behaviors in high-risk populations." says Douglas Powell, professor of child development and family studies who put together the curriculum.

Maurice S. Kramer, head of Purdue's Department of 4-H/Youth, agrees: "This is not an instant cure, which we often want in this society. But these problems did not happen overnight, and they won't go away overnight. Once a young father goes through the program, though, he is more likely to begin to take responsibility and see how he can contribute. From there, it will take the support of the community."

One father, Jamie Knierim of Valparaiso , is trying to be a part of his 4-year-old daughter Rachel's life. For his situation, the class session on legal representation was most helpful. But he says the class has more to offer other fathers.

"I encourage fathers to take it," says Knierim. "They will learn how babies develop and how fast children grow up. It helps you understand how to handle different situations as they arise."

For more information about "It's My Child, Too" call 1-888 -EXT-INFO (398-4636).

Sources: Pam Robbins, (812) 967-3738
Douglas Powell, (765) 494-9511; e-mail, powelld@cdfs.cfs.purdue.edu
Maurice Kramer, (765) 494-8422
Writer: Steven Cain, (765) 494-8410; e-mail, cain@ecn.purdue.edu
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, purduenews@uns.purdue.edu
-end-


Purdue University

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