Change Maker: CUNY’s Fatherhood Academy

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The Equality Indicators spoke with Clorinda Andrade, University Coordinator, of CUNY’s Fatherhood Academy, about inequality. The Academy serves any father between the ages of 18-25 years of age in NYC who wants to expand their education and/or seek better employment opportunities. It is a free program run through three of CUNY’s community colleges. For young fathers without an education, it is a pathway to a better life for their families, teaching them valuable skills related to parenting, financial literacy, and health.

Can you give us an overview of the program?

The CUNY Fatherhood Academy (CFA) is a free program designed to promote responsible parenting and economic stability for unemployed and underemployed Black and Latino fathers ages 18-25, through education, employment, and personal development.

Launched in 2012 at LaGuardia Community College, the CFA is now also offered at Hostos Community College and Kingsborough Community College. CFA is funded by the New York City Young Men’s Initiative, with oversight from the New York City Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO).

CFA’s central focus is to help young fathers prepare for and enroll into college with the understanding that earning a college degree is the most effective path toward providing long- term economic sustainability for themselves and their families. Increasing familial engagement, attaining a High School Equivalency (HSE) diploma, and acquiring gainful employment are all essential goals for the participants enrolled in the CFA.

Participants are recruited through community partnerships with CBOs, city agencies, and professional networks. Additionally, they are referred by family and friends, CBO partners, and through social media platforms.

Since 2012, a total of 188 participants have successfully completed the program.

What are the main ways the program effects the lives of participants?

CFA staff offers individualized services to fathers as they work towards achieving their personal goals. For the most part, participants have reported positive life changes specifically in the following areas: academic learning, fatherhood and parenting, work readiness preparation, and life skills.

Fathers have reported improved relationships with their child’s mother, family members, and most importantly with their children. Many fathers have also realized their potential and have enrolled into college or an occupational training.

How many program participants go on to earn an Associate’s degree from one of the community colleges? How many earn a 4 year degree from CUNY?

Based on a program report from October 2014, about 15% of the fathers that completed the program between 2012 and 2014, have enrolled into college.  Since the program’s relaunch in February 2016, we’ve had eight graduates apply to college. We are currently conducting an analysis to determine the number of former participants that have completed Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees. Participants may choose to enroll into occupational training, college, and/or increasing their employment prospects with the support of their job developer.

How do you help program participants acclimate themselves to college? What are some of their challenges?

This is the primary reason why CFA is housed on a college campus, rather than a community- based organization. It provides participants with real opportunity to experience college life through campus tours, access to campus services, college IDS, and access to computer labs and the library.

One of the biggest challenges that fathers have reported, is shifting their personal views of themselves that they do not fit the typical profile of a college student. Throughout the program, with the support of staff, many of them begin developing a “college going” mentality, and realize that they in fact look and are like the matriculated college students at CUNY.

What are some of the strengths these young men bring to parenting? What are some of the weaknesses? Is there an opportunity for the families to interact?

Fathers enjoy participating in the sessions. They value connecting with each other, and using what they learn to improve their relationships with their kids and family members. Fathers have a strong desire to provide for their families and in some cases want to have better relationships with their kids than their fathers had with them.

As for weaknesses, some participants struggle with communications skills with their children’s mother, their children, and some authority figures. While not a weakness, many fathers comment about what they have learned in the parenting classes – how to take a child’s temperature, ways of addressing children’s behavior, etc.

All of the campuses have family day events, providing opportunities for the fathers to bring their families for social gatherings. LaGuardia implemented a family engagement component as a result of an existing need among the fathers’ adult family members. Family members work closely with a Family Engagement Specialist to access and receive the following services:

  • Workshops focused on parenting and communication
  • Counseling
  • Referrals to other CUNY programs such as HSE, CUNY Start, CLIP,
  • Referrals to programs that provide benefits assistance and access to additional resources

Services are offered on an ongoing basis and cater to each individual’s needs. Family members are encouraged to follow up with the Family Engagement Specialist on an ongoing basis to ensure needs are being met.

We are interested in expanding this component to the other campuses and/or including ways to engage family members.

What are some of the strategies you teach program participants for dealing with stress or frustration?

Workshops and group discussions focused on anger management, coping as a father, and developing effective communication skills, are among some of the topics that help fathers identify strategies to deal with triggers that lead to stress and frustration. Participants also meet with their counselors individually to discuss strategies around some of these issues, and are referred to other social services if needed.

Are program participants assigned mentors? How do you track their progress?

Mentors play a vital role in supporting the success of CFA participants at LaGuardia. CUNY’s Black Male Initiative provides funding for CFA alumni to serve as mentors, further supporting the ability of participants to make positive life choices and maximize their personal potential. The mentors themselves have had experiences juggling competing demands of education, employment, and parenting, and therefore can relate to the fathers on a more personal level.

Given the success of the mentoring program at LaGuardia, we hope to expand the mentoring program to the other colleges.

What kind of role do you believe the Academy is playing in mitigating inequality?

Education plays a significant role in reducing inequality and creates a career pathway for young fathers, increasing job and financial security, and equips them with the resources they need to provide for their children. The CFA serves as an intervention that connects education, counseling emotional support, employment, and supportive fatherhood services in an effort to impact not only our participants’ future, but the future of their children and families.

What does success look like for your graduates? Who are the graduates you are most proud of?

We celebrate participants’ individual milestones, both quantitative and qualitative. Success may look different for each father, for some this is the first time that they follow through and finish something in their life. For others it may be obtaining their HSE, getting a job, being a better father, enrolling into college, improving relationships, the possibilities are endless.  We are proud of all of our graduates because it takes perseverance, commitment, dedication, and trust, to graduate from the CFA.

To find out more information about CUNY’s Fatherhood Academy click here.