By: Sommer Mitchell

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America live in homes that are absent from their biological father.  That’s one out of every three!  This staggering statistic affects child development on so many levels.   Children who live in homes absent of their father are more likely to live in poverty, more likely to become pregnant as a teen, more likely to drop out of high school and are more likely to suffer from obesity.  The time to bring the community together to restore and strengthen our ideal of fathering is now, and there are a couple of groups in Las Cruces that are focused on doing precisely that.

Joshua Stoller, the Program Manager for Conscious Fathering, tells that the program began with Parent Trust for Washington Children in 1999 by Dr. Bernie Dorsey.  The program currently operates in 16 states, primarily within other applications such as pregnancy centers and newborn education in hospitals.  The Conscious Fathering Program of Southern New Mexico, CFSNM, began in 2016 by way of a Children’s Trust Fund grant establishing the program in nine counties.  The key stakeholders of the Conscious Fathering Program of Southern New Mexico are Aprendamos Intervention Team, Parent Trust, and Children’s Trust Fund.  Collaborative partners to the program in southern New Mexico include Turning Point of Las Cruces, CareNet Pregnancy Center, Mountain View Regional Medical Center, Memorial Medical Center, Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center, Gila Regional Medical Center, CHI St. Joseph’s Children-Home Visiting-Deming, Direct Therapy Services and, Help NM Now-Alamo.  “As the culture of fatherhood education comes to the forefront, we see new relationships being built.  Using the CFSNM program and assisting them in marketing, supervision, and materials, they can sustain their own class setting,” Josh states.  “Our referral numbers and awareness are going up!  My passion is to normalize parenting for both fathers and mothers, giving everyone the opportunity for success and eliminating the assumption that one gender is better or more acceptable than the other,” Josh adds.

Fathers Moving Forward is another collaborative that was spearheaded by David Doan and Tricia Heffelfinger of La Clinica de Familia in Las Cruces.  This initiative began when the two of them went to a father engagement event in El Paso, and the two were inspired to do something similar in Las Cruces.  They scheduled a meeting with Graduation, Reality, And Dual-role Skills  (GRADS) and some other local organizations endeavoring to engage fathers.  “We looked at how each agency was jumping for joy and celebrating each time they had just two, three, or four fathers that would participate.  What if we joined forces,” Tricia said.  It was late 2014 when they had their first meeting.  “We had no agenda,” Tricia states, “just trying to discover what each program did, what their requirements were, and what funding sources were available to them.”  They had their first event in 2015!

Fathers Moving Forward and Conscious Fathering have been community partners ever since.  “We’ve done great things in the community around father engagement, including finding funding and organizing trainings for providers, such as community trainings for providers servicing fathers. Historically providers have a habit of addressing only the mother.  We need to be conscious about engaging the father and letting them know they are essential in the care and development of the child.  Children need men in their lives, and we need to change the stigma that suggests otherwise.  Facilitating this kind of change is important.  Dad’s have a value that we cannot replace, and we need to advocate for this,” says Tricia.

In addition to the awareness and educational undertakings, these organizations have dedicated time to address that there are not nearly enough occasions to purely celebrate fathers in our community.  It is this recognition that continues to lead the Dad’s Day Out event.  “We’re not out there tapping our clipboards for recruitment,” says Josh.  “That’s not what this event is about.”  There have now been four Dad’s Day Out events in Las Cruces and two events in the southern part of our county so far.  These events have been well attended and give a noticeable affirmation to the men in the children’s lives that they are doing good.  “It’s an opportunity for the dads to shine,” adds Tricia.  There have been magic shows, games, giveaways, and so many moments of rejoicing fathering.  “We’ve gotten better at the logistics over the years and have been able to focus more on the emotion of the event.  It is so worthwhile when you can see the father’s hesitation in the beginning, but then they’re coming back to participate again,” Josh concludes.

The effort to pool resources and work as a team to focus on the system change that needs to occur to facilitate better outcomes for our children in Dona Ana County is by no means over.  Fathers Moving Forward and Conscious Fathering are looking at ways to increase funding, cultivate volunteers, grow participation, and establish more ways to reach the community.