Multiple research studies have proven that children with fathers actively involved in their lives have a significant advantage over those who do not. They perform better in school, they have more advanced language skills, and they regulate their emotions better than children who have little or no contact with their fathers. 

With this in mind, ROC the Future Alliance hosted its first-ever Parent Café for dads only on February 5th. The gathering was our eleventh Parent Café since the Whole Child Initiative launched the program last summer, and the first of 2024. 

Parent Cafés are a powerful way to engage families in improving the systems that serve them including healthcare, education, and human services. The nationally recognized program provides a safe space for small group discussions where participants examine the “five protective factors” that reduce trauma, fortify families, and strengthen communities: 

  • Resilience
  • Relationships 
  • Knowledge
  • Support
  • Communication 

The five protective factors are the key ingredients for a strong and healthy family. 

Instead of trying to tackle all five protective factors in one session, the Whole Child Initiative picked three for our February 5th café: Relationships, Communication, and Support. We selected these based on input from Parent/Family Partners and backbone team members who felt it was important to break down barriers and encourage participants to be vulnerable, including asking for help, which can be uncomfortable for dads, and men in general, to do.

More than 25 fathers attended the Dads Café, which exceeded our goal. Attendees engaged in deep and meaningful conversations, responding to questions like:

  • Can you share a time when your father, father figure, or caregiver made you feel good as a child? What happened? How did it make you feel?
  • What is an unhealthy or toxic relationship and how do you remove yourself from it?
  • How do you contribute to your family when you’re not working?

Participants had one-on-one conversations, small group discussions and got to share with the entire group. Several attendees said they appreciated the opportunity to be open, honest, and transparent about the childhood experiences that shaped them into the parents they are today. Everyone seemed to agree that an individual can be a great father whether they had a strong father figure or not. 

The Dads Café ended the way all Parent Café’s end: with participants writing a commitment letter completing the phrase, “I will help my children achieve their potential by…” then mailing it to themselves to encourage follow through and accountability.  

Parent Cafés can be a powerful experience for individuals, but that’s not the only reason we host them. Parent Cafés are a critical data collection activity for the Whole Child Initiative. We use the insights that parents share to inform and fuel our systems change strategy. It’s fundamental to our mission to position every child in Rochester on a path to upward mobility by improving educational outcomes, from cradle to career.

Many thanks to all who attended our Dads Café. We look forward to continuing this important work in the weeks and months to come.