The Fathers and Sons Project, based in Flint, MI, is a unique program for African American fathers and their 8-12 year old sons who are not living in the same home. It aims to strengthen the bonds between fathers and sons and promote positive health behaviors. The program brings together the expertise of community-based organizations, the local health department, and the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
The Fathers and Sons Curriculum provides opportunities for participants to engage in mutually beneficial activities to enhance their relationships, obtain information about parent/child responsibilities and expectations, practice relevant skills, address barriers to achieving goals, and share experiences with others facing similar challenges. The intervention has three consistent themes: effective communication; cultural awareness; and skill building. The curriculum covers the following topics over the course of 15 sessions: Diversity among Families; Culture and History; Health Enhancement Strategies; General Communication; Family Functioning; Parenting Behaviors and Relationships; Using Computers to Communicate; Communication about Risky Behaviors; Culture and Health; and the Closing Graduation Ceremony. Between sessions, the fathers and sons complete homework assignments. In total, the program includes forty-five contact hours, supplemented by a booster session for graduates.
Communication between fathers and sons, and among the participating families, is a critical component of the program. At the beginning of each session, the fathers and sons “check in” by describing an experience of the previous week, or any topic of their choosing. This provides a forum for the families to discuss issues that are important to them. Sons also have an opportunity to write about their feelings in journals and they can share their entries with the entire group during “check in” time. In another communication activity, the fathers and sons are asked to write letters to each other.
Skill-building forms an important part of the curriculum. Several sessions are devoted to parenting issues. In one of these, fathers and sons switch roles to give them a better understanding of each other’s point of view. The fathers and sons also discuss risky health behaviors, and the sons practice refusal skills to help them avoid pressures they may encounter in their schools and neighborhoods. Physical activities provide a natural means of promoting positive health behaviors while encouraging a bond between parent and child.
Memorybooks are given to each family to collect photographs and written materials that represent the experiences that the fathers and sons have had in the program. The fathers and sons create culturally inspired products during the sessions, and as part of their homework assignments. These accomplishments can be publicly displayed, an experience that is especially affirming for the sons.
To build a sense of pride and unity in the program, an Adinkra symbol is selected by each group and placed on a T-shirt that is given to all participants and staff. Adinkra symbols are African designs representing specific values. One group, for example, selected the symbol meaning, “Love does not get lost on the way home,” while another selected, “The human being is not like the palm tree that is self-sufficient.” Participants wear these shirts during the graduation ceremony, where their extended families are invited to share their accomplishments.
The Fathers and Sons Steering Committee developed the program curriculum using a community-based participatory process. This collective effort has been invaluable in helping us understand and address issues vital to the creation of a culturally relevant intervention, as well as challenges in recruiting and retaining participants.
The Fathers and Son project received a grant from the CDC to extend and expand its evaluation efforts. The project has served over 150 families and collected data on a comparable comparison group of families. The project will disseminate their curriculum to other communities and provide technical assistance to help them implement the project.
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