The Mother-Baby program at the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services was touted as a success for many years, but recently those in charge of the program began to feel that they weren't reaching out to enough people — mainly, the fathers.
So it was out with Mother-Baby program and in with a revamped initiative called the Parent Education Program, which aims to help all parents, regardless of gender, to become better caretakers for their children. The move to get fathers involved is part of the Father Involvement Initiative, which seeks to help fathers become more fully involved in the lives of their kids.
Chris Clark is one of those dads. His girlfriend became pregnant when Clark was attending classes at Sacramento City College, so he dropped out to help out. The relationship between the two parents ended when his son – now nearly 2 years old – was only about half-way into his first year, and the process to figure out visitation and custody was far from smooth.
On the advice of a mediator, Clark enrolled in the 13-week parenting course offered through the FII, called "Fathers I.N.C.," and he said what he learned there fundamentally altered his understanding of what it meant to be a dad.
"We were very young, and we didn't plan things out," said Clark, who shares custody with the boy's mother, Jessica Miller. "We had to grow up and get a plan and direction for how we were going to raise our son. He means so much to both of us."
It's been a few months since his fall graduation, and even according to Clark's ex-girlfriend and the mother of his child, the differences are striking. They are both trying to cooperate and work together to raise their son, while before there was constant conflict and arguments — at one point, the relationship got so bad that they arranged custody drop-offs and handovers in places where they were likely to be filmed by security cameras. According to Clark, this is no longer the case.
Miller, 22, who lives with her mother, said she appreciates the new approach. The two now plan doctor visits, for example, so that they either go together, or if one can't, at a time that works for the other.
"I have definitely noticed a difference," she said. "We were definitely combative before. He's a lot more willing to work things out."
This is all good news to Lorena Carranza, who manages the program for Parent Education. As she watches a group of fathers graduate from "Fathers I.N.C.," along with Clark, she hopes that his story will attract additional financial resources to help it grow and help more parents do likewise.