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July 2016, the Kansas Department for Children and Families awarded Mirror Inc. a grant to provide a fatherhood initiative program in Topeka. It’s an innovative approach to working with noncustodial dads who owe child support. It was part of a statewide movement to support fathers and strengthen families.

Intensive start

The Work for Success Program is called Developing Dads, Building Relationships. It is a yearlong program that begins with an intensive 3-week training session. The program provides services to low-income fathers, such as work readiness, case management, fathering skills, financial education, and domestic violence prevention. Dads must make a commitment to attend training every day for three weeks. By committing to the program, they are taking the first step to becoming better fathers who are involved with their kids and active in their lives. The dads learn fathering skills from the curriculum “Quenching the Father Thirst” by George Williams of the Department for Children and Families. The men examine their relationships with their own father figure role models. Many participants did not have dads growing up, so they have no idea how to be one. If they haven’t been working and haven’t been paying child support, their self-respect can be extremely low. Sometimes, they remove themselves from their children’s lives because they don’t feel worthy of their kids. Occasionally, external factors keep them from seeing their kids, and since they cannot pay their child support, they don’t fight for their rights. The court systems can be difficult to navigate, so most of the time they are not sure what steps they need to take to ask for child support modifications, resolve custody issues, or request parenting time. The program provides advice and offers recommendations on how parents can work together to parent their children. They learn how to make the children the priority so they are not caught in the middle of their parents’ disagreements. Mirror Inc. helps the dads understand how to repair broken relationships and become better parents. They learn to be functional fathers, and the good dads learn to be better dads.

Job assistance and more

Another important part of the training is personal and professional development. During this self-exploration process, the participants learn how great attitudes and positive choices can empower them to succeed, achieve their dreams, and have hope for the future. They learn how to look for a job, how to dress for success and how to answer interview questions. They learn about budgeting, money management, predatory lending, and other financial matters. They also learn about healthy relationships and domestic violence prevention. Many of the fathers in the program have felony convictions, a history of drug or alcohol abuse, and a sporadic work history. They often lack a driver’s license and transportation and have many other barriers that make it difficult to obtain and maintain employment, which makes it hard for them to meet their child support obligations. The Work for Success team helps the dads resolve these barriers. If the dads have the desire to succeed, the team will do whatever it can to help them. One participant recently said, “When I decided to get my life together, this program was invaluable. I didn’t think there were any programs out there for men, so when I heard about it, I signed up. It’s nice to know that there are people in this world who are so willing to help us. We have someone we can call whenever we need advice,
a shoulder to cry on or a victory to celebrate. I’ve never had that before.”

Post-graduation partnerships

When the dads complete their training, they put on new suits provided by the program and participate in a commencement ceremony surrounded by friends and family. When the men wear their new suits, their pride is evident by the smiles on their faces. “I went from feeling like a dollar to a million dollars overnight just with a new suit of clothes,” said one of the participants. The graduates have a new set of skills to help them with their job search. They have interview clothing and skills, a resume, and job leads. But most of all, they have hope. They have a new outlook on life; they have a purpose and a plan. Mirror Inc. also provides them with a great support system to help them achieve their goals, and they have the self-confidence to make it happen.

For more information about the Mirror Work for
Success Program, contact Deb at ddolsky@mirrorinc.org
or 785-246-5737.