Heartbeat Conference session highlights importance of fatherhood programs

Alexander Hettinga, of CareNet, presents a workshop on fatherhood at the 2024 Heartbeat International Pregnancy Help Conference/Gayle Irwin

On the final day of the 2024 Heartbeat International Conference, a workshop gave encouragement to discover the value of providing a fatherhood program and offered insight into an established program that centers can use which alleviates a few barriers to reaching young men.

“We worked with 10 pregnancy centers for a year, and we saw them grow the number of men that they serve by 20 percent collectively,” Alexander Hettinga told his workshop audience. “The second year we doubled the size of the project, and we worked with 20 pregnancy centers across the country – small centers, big centers, rural, suburban, urban – so that we could really learn what this looks like in each area. Those centers saw a 40 percent growth in the number of men they served.”

Hettinga works for Care Net, which created the program Doctor Dad. The course is available online; therefore, it works with men’s varied schedules, and it doesn’t require in-center visits, alleviating potential barriers for participation. It can also be hosted in-center if staff desires and that works with the male clients.

“Doctor Dad is all online, and you can run it in your center similar to Bright Course,” Hettinga said. “You can do it in rooms, or the guys can do it completely self-paced at home. It starts with pregnancy and goes all the way through toddlerhood. The guys are just loving the course.”

The program will soon be available in Spanish, he added.

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Providing a fatherhood program offers opportunities for “a lot of guys to volunteer at their centers,” Hettinga said.

“It's exciting that people are excited about this topic,” he said.

Fatherhood statistics

According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, which supplies many pregnancy help organizations (PHOs) with materials for dads-to-be, one in four American children, nearly 18 million, live without a father at home, whether a biological dad, an adoptive father, or a step-dad. Fatherless children are at risk for many negative life situations, such as poverty, behavioral problems, criminal activity, and prison time.

From Christian organizations such as Focus on the Family to secular groups like the Association of Child Psychotherapists, most people agree fathers are vital to the well-being of children.

Additionally, studies show the father of the baby is the most influential person in a woman’s life when she experiences an unplanned pregnancy.

Therefore, coming alongside men whose partners are pregnant is critical for PHOs.

Unity in vision

The 2024 conference theme was “United for Life.” Hettinga told his workshop audience that unity is also necessary for a successful fatherhood program.

“Unity is required within the center around a shared family vision,” he said. “So, with hundreds of new fatherhood programs launching in pregnancy centers around the country, there is one primary indicator of success and that's the team that's united around a shared vision for the family.”

“So, bringing fathers in is not just adding a new ministry,” said Hettinga. “It's actually bringing in a new piece of the family that was missing, and it enriches our ministry in a new way.”

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If the father of the baby hasn’t been welcomed into the center in the past, offering that opportunity is a good starting point for the ‘team effort’ of ‘welcoming him,’ Hettinga said.

“This invite to the father of the baby is essential,” he said. “If you aren’t inviting every woman who calls to bring the father [of her child] to the appointment, that's your number one recruiting strategy, your number one marketing strategy.”

“Fathers are valuable to God,” said Hettinga. “We see that in the Bible, we see God's plan for the Christ child. He sent an angel not just to Mary but also to Joseph, and He set up a family around Jesus.”

“[Have] separate consultations that allow them to open up,” Hettinga added. “Many guys are going to share exactly what they're feeling if they have a confidential space, and then you can encourage him it's actually okay for him to tell her that. In many cases she's actually waiting for him to open up. Hopefully, this gives you a good kind of foundation of perspective for getting started.”

Alexander Hettinga presents at the 2024 Heartbeat Conference/Gayle Irwin

Alleviating fear of the new

Taking on a new program, having men (whether volunteer or staff) sharing space at the center, or even welcoming male clients, can be scary, Hettinga acknowledged. However, Scripture guides people in how they should treat each other: like brothers and sisters, like elderly parents, with respect. Such a reminder helps alleviate fear of the new.

“This is where some of the fear of working together goes away, if we can really just treat each other like brothers and sisters,” he told those in attendance. “And then we start to model what it looks like to be part of a family for our clients. We need brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers, and in some cases that's a little brother and in some cases it's a big brother.”

Hettinga provided examples of centers creating fatherhood programs and the successes seen upon engaging young dads-to-be. One center served 57 men in 2022 and the following year that number increased to 157. Another center went from 12 men served in 2022 to 115 the following year, while a center in Texas increased from 17 to 429.    

Meeting the need

The need for fatherhood programs is great, Hettinga stated. PHOs are the means by which to combat father absenteeism. Uniting staff and uniting the pregnancy help movement to bring families together, to wrap men into fatherhood programs, can not only help unite families, but also combat abortion.

“They [men] are highly influential in their partners’ pregnancy decision,” Hettinga said. “Research was done with 1,000 post-abortive women and 38% of the women said the father of the baby was the biggest influence in their decision to terminate the pregnancy.”

He encouraged workshop attendees in closing, stating, “Don't forget about the dads. In every opportunity that comes to your center, think, ‘How does this impact the guys? How are we doing in reaching the guys?’”

Editor's note: Heartbeat International manages Pregnancy Help News.

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