BY MICHELLE AURIANA SIMMONS, One Community New Image News Project
PETERSBURG — Over the past three years, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg has been the home of a unique program that’s helped nearly 100 young, unwed African-American moms and dads to become better, more connected parents. It’s called Figuring it Out for the Child (FIOC), and it’s an innovative pilot funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Development.
FIOC program has been going strong since 2015, and now entering its fourth and final year at University of South Florida’s Family Study Center. Unfortunately, program leaders said they are struggling to reach their ultimate recruitment goal.
“We’re two months into the project’s last year of recruitment. As of today, we still need to reach out to and enroll 52 more families, about five families each month, to reach the number of families we promised we would serve,” said Dr. James McHale, the project’s principal investigator.
The rare aspect of FIOC is that it supports a couple, even when they don’t live together or have any plans for future romance.
Positive co-parenting is associated with increased father involvement, particularly among nonresident fathers who are not romantically involved with their child’s mother. Programs such as FIOC specifically highlight how vital a positive, supportive relationship with the mother is, especially when there is no romance, to support father-child involvement.
“So far, FIOC has provided family supports and resources to over 100 families in our community. The dads and moms we’ve had a chance to get to know say that they enjoy participating and that the resources they learn about are helpful to them and to their family,” said McHale.
The program is free to eligible area families. Since it is part of a study of child and family development, families can earn up to $300 in gift cards if they complete three sets of interviews, starting before the child is born, three months after the baby’s birth and the child turns one year of age.
The eligibility requirements for the program:
- At least one parent must be African American
- The couple must be unmarried and having their first child together
- The baby’s due date should be at least one month away
Enrollment is open to all eligible families living in south St. Petersburg. To find out more or to register for the program, please call Mari Kittle, the program’s recruitment specialist, at (727) 410-3935.
FIOC is a Resource and Referral (R&R) program that supports unmarried African-American mothers and fathers having their first child together, whether they are in a longer-term relationship or are just friends. The FIOC program is unique because it connects with the child’s father and mother together throughout the project.
No present or future marriage needs to be planned – the focus is on helping the two parents develop a strong co-parenting relationship to support the baby. When they join the study, fathers and mothers are paired with an R&R specialist who will remain available to them from the pregnancy through the child’s first birthday.
The specialist will help connect families to existing agencies, programs and community resources, focusing on priorities the mother and father themselves see as being most needed. They will continue to check in periodically with families after the baby has been born, to assure that all needs are being tended to.
Participation also involves enrolling in a research project, sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Development, for which the parents are paid. Mothers and fathers are interviewed together on three different occasions: before receiving community resources, when the child is three months old and finally around the child’s first birthday.
Families who successfully complete all three sets of interviews receive a total of $300 in gift cards ($150 for mother and $150 for father).
Besides receiving gift cards and community resource referrals, families are entered in a random drawing offering them an opportunity to take part in a set of seven workshops. These mentor-led workshops focus on ways to work better together as they raise their child.
As with the R&R program and research project, both fathers and mothers must be agreeable to take part in workshops. Half of the families in the FIOC R&R program will be chosen in the drawing and offered the workshops.