Why investing in young fathers makes sense

Father’s Day is just around the corner! Dads play a vital role in supporting their children’s development from early childhood all the way to young adulthood. But sometimes fathers need support, too. Particularly young fathers.

The Young and Potential Fathers Initiative (YPF) is a United Way-funded program that helps provide young, Black fathers from some of Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods with the knowledge, skills and supports they need to connect with their kids—and each other.

Imagine a City spoke to Zakiya Tafari, a young parent who works at YPF, about how helping young fathers today helps entire families tomorrow.

Zakiya, 32, and his nine-year-old daughter

Zakiya, 32, and his nine-year-old daughter

Tell us a little bit about yourself: I was 22-years-old when my daughter was born. Prior to that, I had a lot of experience taking care of my younger cousins. I already knew a lot about changing diapers and making bottles and putting kids to sleep. But I wished there had been a place where I could have gone to connect with peers who were going through some of the same issues I experienced as a young, single parent. I ended up applying for a job as an outreach worker for the Young and Potential Fathers Initiative in the Weston-Mt. Dennis neighbourhood where I live.

Who is the YPF initiative designed for? The program is intended mostly for young, Black fathers, and specifically, for men who want to get more involved in their kids’ lives. We see men in early 20s to their early 30s, some of whom are going through family court, and who are looking to get more access to their children. I myself have been through family court, and I know firsthand some of the stresses involved in coping with that. Many of the men we help are also seeking housing or employment support. We also work in a couple of high schools and middle schools to help boys understand the broader role they play as young men in their community.

Why is it so important for young fathers to connect with their children? Within our communities it’s very important to have healthy families and for children to get a healthy start. It’s important for children to build resiliency from a young age. A lot of times young fathers in our communities are facing a lot of issues that they don’t understand and the supports aren’t there for them. Children end up taking on adult issues. It’s about helping fathers understand the role they play and the importance of letting children just be children.

Drop-in program offers opportunity for families to play and learn

Drop-in program offers opportunity for families to play and learn

What sort of programs do you offer? Super Dads Super Kids is an eight-week parenting program that focuses on child growth and behavior, managing parenting stress, anger management and effective communication. We help young fathers understand the importance of being good role models and making the right choices when it comes to their children. We also offer a drop-in Play and Learn program for families that focuses on building literacy and play skills. And we’re hoping to re-open our ‘Barber’s Corner’ where men can get their hair cut and feel more comfortable sharing without it feeling like they’re part of a more formal program or support group.

Any success stories to share? When the centre first opened, we helped a young man with a one-year-old son get joint custody of his child.  Through our parenting program he started to understand his role as a father, and as a result, he made better personal choices in terms of who he was associating with. We helped him get a job that he still has today. He was able to move into a new apartment and get off social assistance. Now everything is about him and his child. He still drops by the space. A lot of times he brings his son, too.

YPF participants and their mentors are recognized at a special ceremony

YPF participants and their mentors are recognized at a special ceremony

How does YFP create lasting change in the lives of the fathers it supports? Although we focus on fathers, it’s really about building healthy families and creating a generational impact for children. A lot of the young men we deal with haven’t had a strong father figure in their lives. Our hypothesis is that if young fathers play a more active role in their children’s lives, their children are more likely to have a healthy family themselves.

Want to learn more about how YPF supports fathers?  Check out www.youngpfathers.org

Young and Potential Fathers is also inviting everyone to celebrate Fathers Day with them on Sunday, June 15, 2014, from 1-5 p.m. at The Little Avenue Memorial Park. (22 Little Avenue)