Head Start has a long history of acknowledging that male family members and father figures are important contributors to the school readiness of children and to the well-being of families. Head Start and Early Head Start (EHS) programs consistently engage fathers as advocates, lifelong educators, and first teachers of their children. Programs also engage fathers in developing their own skills and interests and in achieving their personal goals. Male family members and father figures have important and unique contributions to make to their Head Start communities. Everyone benefits when their wish to make a positive difference is welcomed.
Understanding Father Involvement and Engagement in Head Start
Father “involvement” often refers to bringing fathers into the program to participate in different activities. It also refers to helping fathers become more involved in child rearing and in their child’s life. Father “engagement” includes participation and child rearing but goes a step further. Father engagement means making a commitment to a partnership. Engagement is rooted in positive relationships. With involvement, there is an emphasis on being present. With engagement, there is a focus on creating and sustaining ongoing relationships. The intent is to support families and to benefit children’s learning and development. In Head Start, father engagement means that fathers and staff work as partners to promote the child’s best interest, to exchange knowledge about the child, and to share in program governance. They also work together to establish child and family goals that are motivating and fulfilling. Successful engagement of fathers requires staff to demonstrate genuine curiosity and respect for the unique strengths, talents, cultures, goals, and circumstances of fathers. Building a trusting relationship based on knowledge and acceptance of the individual opens the door for meaningful communication. A trusting relationship can lead to positive changes for families and for our program.