A Father’s Engagement
Justin Brown is an adoptive father of a 4-year-old boy, and a foster father to two 2-year-old boys. He works as a youth minister for St. Agnes Parish in Dalton, MA and is the co-director of Camp Holy Cross in Goshen, MA. Justin first became involved in early intervention when his 4-year-old was referred for services at 18-months-old. He has become a strong advocate for the strengths and needs of his children and enjoys wrestling, cooking, and going for walks with them.
ED: How did you begin your engagement in early childhood education?
My engagement in early childhood education began when my son, Reney who is now four, came to our home when he was 18 months old. When my wife and I first met Reney as foster parents, he had some significant development delays. Reney was not walking or using any words yet. As soon as he became part of our family, we started receiving early intervention services on a consistent basis and worked with various service providers, including occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, and developmental specialists. Although it was a lot of work, Reney thrived with the support that was provided for him and he is now doing well in a preschool. Reney is a typical boy who loves to play outside and get dirty. He has his own rock collection. He loves to engage in imaginary plays, pretending to be his favorite superheroes and cartoon characters. Reney tends to get fixated on a routine, and transitions between activities are often hard for him. When he gets frustrated, it takes longer for Reney to regulate his emotions, so this is an area we are working on with his teacher and therapist. Reney thrives when there is one-on-one support and care from an adult, so being at home with us and his two younger brothers has been challenging sometimes. Virtual activities with his teacher have been helpful though. When Reney is happy, he laughs easily and is a pleasant boy to be around.
ED: What efforts have you been involved in to improve the quality of early childhood programs and services?
I don’t have an education or early childhood background. However, my wife worked as an early intervention provider for 10 years, and I learned about development of children through her. I am a youth minister and more familiar with older children’s issues. Being a new parent, and not familiar with early childhood motivated me to engage in my children’s services and education to educate myself and learn what I could do to best support them.
Despite my introverted nature, I have participated in a couple different parent groups, and I found a lot of value in those parent groups. Often, those groups provide a safe place for parents to talk about challenges that other parents might also be experiencing. Hearing perspectives of other parents on common issues has been very encouraging and helpful. For this reason, I would not hesitate to jump on board efforts to improve programs and services, including educational programming for parents. I believe that when parents engage and ask questions, it adds some checks and balances to programming. It also helps parents to learn where they can help and better advocate for their children.
ED: Do you see any barriers for fathers in engaging in their children’s education?
Personally, I’ve had several different experiences. Some of my child’s providers and teachers have been very open and willing to share information, have a conversation and answer questions for me. This really helped me learn about what my son was dealing with day to day and how to most effectively support him. On the other hand, I also have experienced instances where I did not feel fully included in the conversation about my son, especially when my wife was present with me. A barrier in this situation may be a lack of expectation that a father is or wants to be involved in the education of their children as much as the mother does. In most cases, I would say if a father is present, he wants to be there and wants to be involved. Therefore, early childhood professionals need to take more initiative to engage fathers and be more reciprocal with them.
ED: What suggestions do you have for early education professionals and educators who want to engage more fathers?
I think a good way to engage more fathers is to create programming specifically targeting fathers. I think that all fathers want to learn how to best support their children. However, fathers may feel hesitant to actively interact with early childhood professionals because they are not sure if they have the right questions to ask or they do not feel that their input is welcome during meetings. Early childhood professionals need to be aware of this and try to engage fathers more actively when they have opportunities. Professionals may provide few key points to fathers and provide opportunities for fathers to ask questions during and after the meeting. Professionals need to make consistent efforts to reach out to fathers, and when they do that, they need to be specific about how a father’s engagement will benefit their individual child. Also, hearing from more male professionals or other fathers can encourage more fathers to engage. Programs can use these strategies when they consider developing a father engagement program. An early intervention group for father-child pairs that is geared towards educating fathers on interacting with children on an educational support level would be great. The same type of programming could be done at a preschool level.
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