As a single dad with partial custody of two young children, Benjamin Alaniz de Santa Maria had to overcome the challenges of parenthood without much guidance along the way.
With few local support services for fathers and the ability to only see his children every other week, Alaniz wanted to make sure he was the best dad he could during the limited time he had with them.
“They don’t really give you a guide to parenting,” Alaniz said from her Santa Maria home, where pictures of her sons, 3 and 6, adorn the walls. “I went through a separation about two years ago and the legal process was difficult.”
In April, he heard about a new program run by the nonprofit Family Service Agency focused on educating and supporting dads called Forever A Father. Twelve weeks later, he became one of 11 fathers in the program’s first group of graduates, making connections with other single fathers and gaining confidence in his emotional expression and communication skills.
Forever a Father offers free 6 and 12 week programs in English and Spanish, with sessions focused on presenting and managing emotions, men’s health, what it means to be a man, communication and co-parenting, the all run virtually by family relations educators. .
Participants also receive one-on-one case management and out-of-class support, including the delivery of family meals, and have the option of participating in an additional four-hour program specifically for divorced or separated fathers.
FSA Health and Human Services director of grants Yeimi Arias said one element that spurred the idea for the program was the lack of local resources for single fathers in Santa Barbara County, where about 30% of households with children were lone-parent households in 2019, according to U.S. Census data.
“A lot of our services target moms and their needs, but not specifically fathers or father figures. Most fathers want to be the best dad they can be, and although they do, they often don’t have the knowledge or skills to be a good dad, ”Arias said. “We want all fathers to be successful in their roles, and our goal is to help them be the best version possible for their children and their families.”
The sessions Alaniz attended were part of the program’s “soft opening” in April, Arias said. Additional sessions in English and Spanish are scheduled to start in July and August, with one also starting this week.
According to Alaniz, most of the participants in his session were single fathers, like him, sharing custody of their children. Alaniz himself said the sessions helped him communicate more effectively with the mother of his sons, who was given primary custody during the separation process, as is often the case.
Research from the Custody X Change parenting planning service indicates that California single fathers are allowed around 33% of custody time on average, which works out to around 120 days per year in total.
“I would recommend the program to any dad, but maybe more to single fathers because you sometimes play two roles as a dad and a mom,” he said. “I feel like single fathers have a bad reputation… but there are a lot of good dads out there.”
The FSA is able to fund the program through a five-year grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services. The program is divided into two hour sessions twice a week.
The program uses partnerships with the Santa Barbara County Superior Court and Probation Services, Domestic Violence Solutions, the Santa Barbara Public Library, and the Lompoc Adult School Career Center to provide services and referrals.
However, many participants in the first two sessions found the program on their own, according to FSA officials.
“The goal is to strengthen family functioning through additional resources and skills development so that parents are better able to raise their children in a healthy family environment,” said Lisa Brabo, Director General of the Family Services Agency.
For more information on Forever a Father, visit fsacares.org/fathers. Interested parties can pre-register by calling the Family Services Agency at 805-868-0160.