Pam Halbach is the Kenosha Director/WIC Director at Racine Kenosha Community Action Agency (RKCAA) in Kenosha, WI, where she has worked for the past 25 years. She began her career as a Peace Corps volunteer/public health educator in Belize. Following that, she spent the next year traveling throughout the US. After returning to school to obtain a second degree in dietetics, the Appalachian Mountains called her name, and she moved to West Virginia to work as a WIC dietitian for one year. As the Kenosha Director for RKCAA, Pam looks for innovative ways to improve the health and nutrition of WIC families and the broader community. Some of these efforts include Dedicated Dads, the WIC father-involvement initiative; an onsite farm stand, a teaching kitchen, the Kenosha Senior Veggie Voucher program, and KHIP-the Kenosha Health Improvement Project. She and her team are ready to launch WIC on the Go, which will provide front-door service to WIC families. Pam actively participates in several community coalitions and boards relating to wellness, health disparities, food security and poverty.
Pam speaks below in the Q&A about her agency’s Dedicated Dads program. To learn more about this program and ways that local WIC agencies can welcome, support, and nurture dads in their clinics, join us for the WIC Dad’s Panel on Wednesday, September 26 from 4:00 to 5:00 pm at the 2018 Nutrition Education & Breastfeeding Promotion Conference and Exhibits in New Orleans, Louisiana. You can also learn about this program in this brief video created through NWA's Community Partnerships for Healthy Mothers and Children (CPHMC) Project.
Tell us more about the program-development process for RKCAA’s Dedicated Dads program. What inspired this work?
Racine Kenosha Community Action Agency, Inc. (RKCAA) provides WIC services for Kenosha County. RKCAA strengthens WIC and the health of families in our community by providing additional programs and initiatives, such as Dedicated Dads. Fatherhood programming began as a result of a 1.5-year planning and program-development grant through the Wisconsin Partnership Project. RKCAA is an active member of Kenosha Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families, a collaborative addressing Kenosha County’s high infant-mortality rate among African American infants. The collaborative identified strengthening families through father involvement as one of its key strategies. With the large number of families served through WIC each month, and an increase in fathers coming along to their child’s WIC appointment, the RKCAA Kenosha office was well-positioned to develop a fatherhood programming model.
The overarching goal of Dedicated Dads is to improve the health of low-income infants, children, and families participating in the Kenosha WIC Program through the support and engagement of fathers. The program has a two-pronged approach: 1) encouraging father involvement at WIC appointments and events; and 2) providing specific education and support to fathers.
Why is it so important to engage dads in WIC service delivery?
Having fathers involved from pregnancy is recognized as a critical factor in the social determinants of health. The National Fatherhood Initiative cites multiple medical, economic, and social factors related to the absence of fathers on maternal and child health. Research shows that father involvement improves the health of women during their pregnancy, improves birth outcomes and positively affects the health of infants and children. With 53 percent of all infants born in the United States participating in WIC during their first year, WIC is in an opportune position to positively affect the health and future of low-income families.
What is the value add of the Dedicated Dads program to your local agency?
Dedicated Dads aligns with RKCAA’s mission statement: Improving lives by providing quality programs and innovative solutions for individuals and families. RKCAA has been instrumental in changing the conversation and including fathers in all areas of programming, with the fundamental belief that strong families, inclusive of father involvement, are needed for long-term and sustainable health and family improvements. The community has been supportive of Dedicated Dads and other agency initiatives.
What are the major successes and lessons learned at this point?
Dedicated Dads will be entering its third year of programming in July. Successes have been increased father participation and engagement at WIC appointments.
Lessons learned: Developing a model for WIC dads is a process that evolves as the program grows and develops. Having an effective evaluation component in place to measure what is and is not working is important. Be willing to make changes based on the results. Be sure to include both quantitative and qualitative data. Testimonials are powerful, and suggestions from program participants are an essential component of program improvement.
What recommendations do you have for other agencies interested in establishing a dads initiative in their clinics?
Start with a father-friendly assessment/check-up of your clinic to assess how your clinic encourages father involvement and areas to strengthen. Involve staff in the planning and implementation process. RKCAA has a Father Involvement Team, which includes our Father Involvement Coordinator, a WIC dietitian, and a WIC clerk. They meet monthly to discuss ideas, challenges, and successes. This information is discussed and shared with all staff at the monthly staff meeting. Partnerships are key to program success. As the Dedicated Dads Program has grown, so have our partnerships and community connections.
How were you able to fund the Dedicated Dads program? Do you have any suggestions for resources that other local agencies could seek?
Grant writing: Initial funding to launch Dedicated Dads was through the United Way of Kenosha County, and they continue to provide financial support. Other funding came through grants at the local and state level. Kenosha County Child Support Agency has a monthly presence at RKCAA to answer child support-related questions. This partnership grew, and they now contract with RKCAA to provide fatherhood programming to noncustodial fathers participating in their employment and training programs. The community has been supportive, and currently 13 local businesses or organizations assist with resources and support for the Dedicated Dads programming or events.