BY GWENDOLYN REESE, Columnist
ST. PETERSBURG — Recently I’ve re-engaged with a program that has been around in our community for quite a few years. The program, Figuring It Out for the Child (FIOC), provides support to unmarried, non-co-resident African-American moms and dads having their first baby together. It does not have to be either parent’s first child, but it must be their first child together.
My initial involvement with FIOC was during its formative stages. I recall participating in focus groups with the University of South Florida faculty members Dr. Vikki Gaskin-Butler, Dr. James McHale and Gypsy Gallardo during the development stage of the curriculum back in 2013. The information from these sessions resulted in an understanding of the importance of spending time and effort building rapport and trust with fathers and mothers before the sessions began.
FIOC is unique in that the focus is on the child, helping mothers and fathers to communicate and problem solve about their children. The goal, neither implicit nor explicit, is not about developing personal relationships between the parents or promoting marriage.
The goal is to help unmarried and uncoupled African-American parents develop the communication and problem-solving skills needed to overcome the challenges they may face in working collaboratively to plan the healthiest and most positive course for their baby in or outside of a committed relationship or marriage.
Even though fathers play a crucial role in the intellectual and social development of their children, there are many obstacles to overcome when developing positive co-parenting relationships. Positive co-parenting between parents, especially when formed prenatally, during infancy and early childhood has many benefits for the children.
Bonding, attachment, security, healthy brain development, social and emotional competence and preschool readiness is greatly enhanced when unmarried parents form strong, positive co-parenting relationships. Parental benefits include a decline in negativity and conflict, improvements in communication and problem-solving and an increase in the overall concern about the health and well-being of their shared child.
“Once parents enter the program to try it out, they not only stick with it, but 100 percent reported that they found it very helpful in their situation,” said Dr. McHale, project director. “One out of four families who took part referred a friend or family member to the program. And most importantly, after the program ended the evidence was clear that communication and problem solving had improved and that parents were doing a better job figuring things out for their child.”
Who is the program for? FIOC is for all expectant parents — even those who are no longer romantically involved. In fact, it is even more helpful for families where the parents are no longer together or even able to talk together about how to figure things out for the child – her child, his child, their child.
The baby will always have them both as co-parents, and programs that can help parents get along better regardless of their life situations are a blessing. To be eligible for the program, at least one parent must be African American, the couple must be unmarried and having their first child together, and the baby’s due date should be at least one month away.
FIOC is available in our community for only a few more months. The goal is to enroll and provide support to as many families as possible in the spring and summer months. It’s not too late to enroll in the program.
If you are a couple who is pregnant now or you know couples who are pregnant, whether you just learned you’re pregnant or whether you are eight months along and everybody in between, we encourage you to contact the program for more information and to join us on Tuesday, May 7 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. for an evening of food and conversation.
Expectant moms, dads, supportive friends and family members are welcome. Join us and meet the staff, learn about program services and benefits and ask questions. All services are free to families including incentives, healthy snacks and assistance with transportation.
When: Tuesday, May 7, 2019 from 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Where: Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, Education and Conference Center
701 4th St. S. Parking in rear of building
Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Enrollment ends December 31, 2019. For more information, call Mari Kittle at 727-410-3935.