How did you get into this type of work?

Coach at the OfficeI got started in fatherhood work because of my own unique challenges, things that I’ve had to overcome, and I believe that these trials and tribulations have uniquely shaped me to help other men overcome those same trials. Those include growing up without a dad, anger issues early in life, which led me to make some bad choices like dropping out of high school at age 16. Dropping out of high school really puts you behind the 8-ball, it really puts you behind everyone else. And you spend the rest of your life trying to play catch-up. But in doing that, there’s a lot of frustration, a lot of pain – some of that led me to using drugs to self-medicate. Right about the time that crack hit the scene in Baltimore, I got caught up in a 10-year spiral of doing crack cocaine, which also led to a period of incarceration. I lost my home, my vehicle, and more importantly, my family. One day you just wake up and you recognize: I know there’s something better for me, that I should be doing better. I just wanted to be a better person. I was tired of living the way I was. With the drug addiction, I just stopped cold turkey. I decided: enough is enough. The motivation for that was my wife had decided to leave me and take my children. It was devastating.  Losing my family was the impetus to cause me to want to turn my life around.

How long have you been involved with RFFI?

I have been involved since 2009. Once I moved here to Richmond and began to get my life back together, I recognized that there was something in my heart that yearned to  be with more positive men—guys that I could look up to, guys that could begin to reshape and remold me into the type of individual I wanted to be. Men are in a way, kind of private. They don’t want other people knowing what their business is. They suffer silently. I wanted to not only help myself but help them at the same time. There’s a calling on my life to do this type of work. RFFI provided resources and training that were free and really instrumental to me beginning to build a foundation. I’m really grateful for the relationship.

What is it like to lead a fatherhood support group, and what do you enjoy about it?

The group provides a safe place for men to come and talk about the issues they’re struggling with. To me, the most rewarding experience is that at first, a lot of these young men are being made to come – they don’t want to be there, they don’t see the value of being there. They come in with very hard exteriors. Initially, they don’t really participate. But generally, by the time the workshops are over, through the diversity of our facilitators and the classes…eventually they get reached. And they begin to open up; you begin to find out who they are. They begin to smile. You see a totally different person than who comes in initially. To see their light bulbs going off, to see them getting an understanding, to see them release some frustration, just to see them empowered—it’s a better high than any drug.

RFFI Program Coordinator Anthony J. Mingo, Sr. traveled to Kansas City, Mo., in June to present at the National Partnership for Community Leadership’s 18th Annual International Fatherhood Conference.

KC conferenceSince 1998, the International Fatherhood Conference has brought visibility and voice to the field of responsible fatherhood through the efforts of practitioners, researchers, and policy makers. This year’s theme, “Strengthening Parenting Relationship Assets To Improve The Well-Being of Children,” grew out of an emerging consensus regarding the importance of both fathers and mothers to the healthy growth and development of children. A growing body research indicates that children fair better on a variety of well-being indicators when both parents are actively involved and engaged in their lives. As part of this focus, Mr. Mingo presented RCHD’s innovative work in engaging mothers in fatherhood programming as well as presenting a learning track “ A Public Health Model: Child Well Being and Family Fragmentation: Solutions for Healthy Families”.  Conference participants were introduced to how the Richmond City Health District, through RFFI, implemented a public health model to strengthen families in the City of Richmond and surrounding counties using the findings from its Cost and Solutions report findings “A Public Health Report: Child Well-Being and Family Fragmentation: Solutions for Healthy Families”.  The purpose of the presentation was to explore evidence-based child welfare policies and practices to safeguard children. RFFI was able to demonstrate that through its use of innovative intervention strategies and programming, engaging stakeholders, mobilizing resources and aligning activities ensured that Richmond is “a city where children experience the benefits of fathers and mothers working cooperatively and responsibly to raise health children”

The 2016 International Fatherhood Conference engaged attendees in discussions and workshops on evidence-based and evidence-informed practices, and, policies and research findings that are leading to advances in the responsible fatherhood field. Conference workshop topics focused on fatherhood and early childhood development; social welfare policy; healthy relationship and marriage education; co-parenting; child support; fatherhood development; motherhood development; re-entry; employment and entrepreneurship; faith-based approaches; state-wide projects and initiatives, youth development, social media, proposal writing and fund raising; and outcome measurement and evaluation. The conference also featured a pre-conference on evaluation of fatherhood programs, speakers and workshop presenters who will share their expertise on effective practices.

Mark your calendars! The Richmond Family & Fatherhood Initiative (RFFI) will host the 2016 Virginia Family and Fatherhood Symposium on October 26, 2016. The theme of this year’s symposium is “Power of Two: How Effective Co-Parenting Enhances Family Stability and Child Well-Being.”

The symposium will feature keynote speaker Dr. Leroy Thompson, an instructor for the Virginia State Court’s “Co-Parenting: Two Parents, Two Homes” program. He is a certified Master Trainer for The National Partnership for Community Leadership’s “Fatherhood Development Curriculum.”  LeRoy also conducts the Fairfax County Public Schools Family and School Partnership’s “Dads Matter Class” and is a parenting program instructor for the County’s Department of Family Services.

The symposium will also feature learning tracks in following areas: Evidenced Based and Promising Practice Parenting Programs; Promising Practice Youth Development Programs; Developing an Evidenced Based Practice; followed by a panel discussion on current co-parenting program strategies with a public Q&A session.

For more information and to register for the symposium, please check out our event website.

A new fatherhood support group started in May at the Healing Place, a long-term shelter and recovery program for homeless men with drug and alcohol addictions.

Healing placeStephen Vicoli, transition coordinator for men at the facility, said he first heard of RFFI from Richmond City Health Director Danny Avula, who had toured The Healing Place. RFFI Coordinator Anthony Mingo later got in touch, and came to the facility to gauge interest among its residents.

“We’re always looking for new ways and new partners in connecting fathers in Richmond with their children,” Mr. Mingo said. “This new group is another avenue to help men rebuild that relationship, and impact child well-being.”

The new group follows the model of RFFI’s existing support group at the Rubicon Substance Abuse Treatment Center. It adheres to the RFFI logic model, which includes a 2-week module on trauma and resilience, the National Partnership for Community Leadership’s a 15-session fatherhood development curriculum, and a 2-week co-parenting module. Make-up classes are conducted at the completion of each session. Participants must complete all sessions in order to graduate.

The group, which meets on Wednesday afternoons, started with five men, but is expected to grow.

“Any resource available regarding improving or establishing the ability to be a responsible, effective father is surly needed here,” Mr. Vicoli said. “All of these men have suffered from substance abuse and have limited practice and or skills in that area….It is my hope that the men that take advantage of this group will have a new and healthy experience with their children and their sobriety.”

RFFI recently added two new components to their program design, Trauma (ACEs) and Co-Parenting.  The results of the assessments used to measure these components have shed new light on the affect that both of these factors have on parenting and relational skills.

The assessments RFFI uses to measure trauma include the Adverse Childhood Experience Score, the Trait Hope Scale, Scales of Psychological Well-Being, a Protective Factors Survey, and a Resiliency Score.

“What I have learned so far is that I need to work on myself before I can cope or deal with kids because the stress I have, I don’t want my kids or children to feel left out or not loved just because I have my own problems,” said one participant in RFFI’s motherhood class.

The Adverse Childhood Experience Score (ACEs) is used to measure the amount of trauma one has experienced in their childhood.  There are 10 areas that the ACEs measures:  physical, sexual and verbal abuse; physical and emotional neglect; a family member who is: depressed or diagnosed with a mental illness, addicted to alcohol or another substance, in prison; witnessing a mother being abused and losing a parent to separation, divorce or other reason.

Per the ACES Too High News, The ACE Study revealed five main discoveries:

  • - ACEs are common…nearly two-thirds (64%) of adults have at least one.
  • - They cause adult onset of chronic disease, such as cancer and heart disease, as well as mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence
  • - ACEs don’t occur alone….if you have one, there’s an 87% chance that you have two or more.
  • - The more ACEs you have, the greater the risk for chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence. People have an ACE score of 0 to 10. Each type of trauma counts as one, no matter how many times it occurs. You can think of an ACE score as a cholesterol score for childhood trauma. For example, people with an ACE score of 4 are twice as likely to be smokers and seven times more likely to be alcoholic. Having an ACE score of 4 increases the risk of emphysema or chronic bronchitis by nearly 400 percent, and suicide by 1200 percent. People with high ACE scores are more likely to be violent, to have more marriages, more broken bones, more drug prescriptions, more depression, and more autoimmune diseases. People with an ACE score of 6 or higher are at risk of their lifespan being shortened by 20 years.
  • - ACEs are responsible for a big chunk of workplace absenteeism, and for costs in health care, emergency response, mental health and criminal justice.  So, the fifth finding from the ACEs Study is that childhood adversity contributes to most of our major chronic health, mental health, economic health and social health issues.

ACES snip
As indicated in the study, there are a host of factors that result from children who experience traumatic events.  The above results correlate with RFFI’s ACE assessments.  A recent sampling of two RFFI program cohorts found an average of 7 for the ACE score with 10 being the highest.  It is evident that ACEs dramatically impacts parenting and relational skills.  A significant proportion of participants are reporting both sexual and physical abuse in their early childhood years.  Living through trauma is traumatic enough but when children are involved in the equation. We tend to parent how we were parented and therefore, the cycle of ACEs continues. 

“I have learned how stress and trauma affects children at a young age and follows them into adulthood,” one woman in the class said.

It is because of this, that RFFI not only incorporated the ACEs assessment but has added an educational component as well.  Many participants have not heard of ACES and have no idea of how it has impacted them personally nor is there a recognition of how their ACEs has impacted their parenting.  The educational component which is the initial introduction to trauma, brings to light their experiences and how they have been affected by ACEs.  Along with this, the lesson then culminates to identify where they have continued in the cycle of ACEs in their parenting.   

After the education, parents are asked to share their experiences with trauma.  This opens up a myriad of experiences, sharing and creates a bond within the group.  Participants have voiced that this component has answered the question of “why they are the way they are, why they act the way they act, and why they parent the way they parent.” 

“So far I have learned that my childhood affected how I raised my own kids,” said one participant in the motherhood group. “ I need to step it up and stop the cycle of abandonment!”

With this education, there is an awareness, an awakening, and a great desire to change.  It should also be noted that many thought the abuse they suffered as a child was “normal” even though it didn’t feel “normal.”  During this session, parents also build their own Emergency Care and Resiliency Plan.   This plan is a proactive approach when there are “triggers” that may cause one to fall back into trauma behavior.  This is a needed component as it creates a mindset and readies them to be prepared when faced with their “triggers.”

 “These sessions have been informative and educational,” one participant said. “It means a lot to be able to reflect on my past and how I allow it to affect my correct parenting skills.”