Phoenix Fathers: Helping Dads Help Their Kids

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

A father is an extremely important person in every child’s life, and a father struggling with addiction can have a particularly strong impact on his children’s development and behaviors. We know that children of addicted parents are the highest-risk group for developing alcohol or drug addictions themselves. So how can we break this destructive cycle? By turning to programs like Phoenix Fathers, developed by Phoenix House’s Center on Addiction and the Family (COAF). The program helps dads in treatment understand and embrace their fatherhood roles and experiences while working to better meet their children’s needs and maintain their own sustained recovery.

This Father’s Day will be a particularly exciting one for the clients and staff at our Phoenix House Career Academy in Brooklyn, NY, as the holiday also marks the completion of treatment for the first participants in our Phoenix Fathers group. “The program was a huge success,” explains Case Manager Leslie Slater. “We start off discussing how the fathers perceived themselves being treated when they were children, and their own relationships with their fathers, before examining how that effects the way they raise their own children.” Often, these fathers lacked positive male role models when they were young—an absence that often contributes to a lack of awareness of their own children’s needs, feelings, and communication styles.

In Phoenix Fathers, dads learn about childhood development, education, communication, discipline vs. punishment, guardianship, child support, and other relevant topics. “We teach them about how addiction affects fatherhood, about how monetary support is important for kids but that spending time with them is more important than the monetary aspect,” Slater adds. “They start thinking about the future, about their family as a unit larger than themselves. They start setting goals and writing about how they see themselves and their children in the next five years.”

Many of these men have a family history of addiction, come from similar backgrounds, or even shared the same drug of choice. For these reasons – and because of their status as dads in treatment – it’s easy for them to relate to each other, share their experiences, and support each other’s recovery. As a result of the program, they begin communicating with the mothers of their children, often for the first time in months or years. They start paying child support and building connections with their kids.

“It’s a lot to overcome,” says Slater, “because for some of these men, they’re coming from years of conflict between them and their kids’ moms. But we help them open up those lines of communication.” She adds that the program has a practical purpose as well, serving as a sort of “proof of progress” in the world outside Phoenix House: “One of our clients went to court today to try and get custody of his kid, and he took his Phoenix Fathers completion certificate to show what he’d done for his child. They were so impressed!”

For these fathers in treatment, this week marks not only a Father’s Day celebration, but a fresh start. They’ve come a long way in the Phoenix Fathers program and are ready to use what they’ve learned to create the life they’ve always wanted for themselves and their children. “I actually bought them all ties as Father’s Day gifts, for their recovery celebration,” laughs Clinical Director Vinny Panico. “We’re really proud of them and of what the group is about.”

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