As a result of our unique focus on boys, men and fathers in Calgary, we have been given a window into the serious but under-explored and in some cases largely unknown issues, affecting hundreds of boys, men and their families, and resulting in significant but silent suffering. We hear from families every day whose needs we know we could meet but who at this time we cannot adequately support due to a lack of resources.
That is why we are excited to be in a position to transform ourselves into a full-time Canadian Centre for Men and Families in Calgary. We are working to open a new facility, inspired by the successful Canadian Centre for Men and Families hubs operating in Ontario, which demonstrate that boys and men will seek out services when they are provided. Our services will, of course, be fully tailored to the needs of the communities in Alberta. Working in partnership with other agencies, we can transform the delivery of services for boys, men and fathers in Calgary.
Our vision focuses on three critical areas that are directly in line with the priorities of the Government of Alberta, and for which we have established partnerships with key Alberta health and social service agencies. We commit to:
1. Reduce suicide among men at high-risk through intervention programs that confront head on the barriers that men face in getting help,
2. Empower fathers undergoing separation or divorce through legal clinics and fathering groups that strengthen the father-child relationship, while working to promote positive social attitudes towards fatherhood,
3. Support men who are experiencing domestic abuse while working with other agencies to improve services for this population
In the last year, the part-time Canadian Centre for Men and Families in Calgary supported 180 families. Our full-time sister agencies in Ontario support an average of 400 families per year. Our Support Group for Male Survivors of Domestic Abuse supports 12-15 clients in 12 week sessions which run 3 times throughout the year. Our Fathering After Separation or Divorce group supports 10-12 clients in 8 week sessions which meet 4 times throughout the year. We also run individual, informal peer support and drop-in legal clinics that run on an ongoing basis.
Through seminars, workshops and training which we are invited to provide to dozens of agencies each year, we indirectly reach many more families. These agencies include the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Ontario Network of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Centres, the Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario, as well as police, shelters and victim service agencies across the country.
In 2018 our agency hosted its national conference in Calgary, sparking meaningful community engagement. The Conference we held in June 2018, Dads, Moms & Kids: Maximizing a Family’s Mental Health and Well-Being, featured a keynote presentation by Mara Grunau, Executive Director of the Centre for Suicide Prevention, and included presentations by Christine Berry, Director of Family Violence Prevention Initiatives at Calgary Counselling Centre, Dr. Christine Giancarlo, a Mount Royal University Professor who studies parental alienation, along with a number of psychologists from across Alberta.
Here are some highlights of our national accomplishments in 2018:
We offer a variety of programs in response to each of the objectives laid out above in our three-part vision.
1. Counselling, Coaching and Peer Support Mental Health Services
Alberta has the second highest suicide rate in Canada, after Quebec, and men are three times more likely than women to die by suicide. The Government of Alberta Health Services created the Alberta Suicide Prevention Strategy which lists “Middle aged males” under priority groups for suicide prevention, acknowledging that “Middle aged males are an identified group at risk of suicide in Alberta.” The strategy calls for intervention programs designed for those at greatest risk of suicide – including men. All our mental health programs have suicide prevention as their primary objective, while focusing on middle aged males.
We have developed men’s mental health programs, both individual and group support, that directly target the barriers that keep men from engaging in help seeking behaviour, in particular by reframing what it means to be strong as getting help for the sake of yourself and your loved ones. Our services across Canada have attracted hundreds of boys and men who have never before sought help and who would be going without support were it not for our distinctive programs.
2. Fathering After Separation or Divorce
According to the 2011 General Social Survey on Families, about 4 in 10 marriages end in separation or divorce. Alberta has the highest rate of divorce of any province. When families separate, children suffer the most from not seeing one parent – mostly their dads – sometimes for months at a time.
Without question, mothers are vital to the well-being of their children. Appropriately, a number of programs exist throughout Alberta to support single mothers who – often not by choice – successfully raise their children alone. Fathers, however, also have a powerful and positive impact upon the development and health of their children. Studies have shown that father-absent children are consistently over-represented on a wide range of mental health problems, particularly anxiety, depression and suicide, and that they are more likely to experience unemployment, have low incomes, remain on social assistance, and experience homelessness.
Men face significant and unique challenges in maintaining strong relationships with their children after divorce or separation. The report “How and Why to Include Fathers in Government-Funded Parenting Strategies: No Man Left Behind” (April 2016), released by the University of Calgary Faculty of Social Work, acknowledges that “research unequivocally shows that fathers play a vital and distinct role in supporting children’s health and development” and encourages the Government of Alberta to move ahead with “investing in the development of a focused fatherhood strategy that would increase the number of programs available for fathers throughout the province.” The report called for an explicitly gendered approach to parenting programs as a temporary measure to balance the traditional focus on mothers, noting that “by investing in policies, programs and services that support fathers, the GOA [Government of Alberta] can promote a message about the importance of positive father involvement to healthy child outcomes and help to redress an imbalance that affects us all.”
Despite this, we have discovered a lack of fathering programs throughout Alberta. We seek to fill this gap with a program called Fathering After Separation or Divorce, which has assisted hundreds of men where it has been implemented. The program’s curriculum has been built specifically for fathers, and is based on the best research from child psychologists, family law lawyers, and men’s health providers. Key topics include co-parenting plans, conflict resolution and problem-solving skills training, and learning how to care for the emotional and physical well-being of yourself and your children. Fathers from a disadvantaged background are given priority access to the program.
Fathering after Separation or Divorce fosters positive outcomes for fathers and children by helping divorced or separated men develop the parenting and self-care skills needed to strengthen relationships with their kids.
3. Support Services for Male Victims of Domestic Violence and Abuse
The cycle of family violence can only be broken if all victims get the support they need. Research spanning over 30 years has led us to the counter-intuitive conclusion that men suffer domestic abuse at significant rates. The largest study on domestic violence ever completed, The Partner Abuse State of Knowledge Project, reached the conclusion that “women perpetrate physical and emotional abuse, and engage in control behaviors, at comparable rates to men.” The 2014 General Social Survey on Family Violence of Statistics Canada found that “a nearly equal proportion of men and women reported having experienced spousal violence within the preceding five years, specifically 342,000 women and 418,000 men.”
The same 2014 General Social Survey report concluded that despite similar levels of victimization, male victims often have no access to essential support services like counselling, crisis centres, victim services or domestic abuse shelters. This leads to severe implications for these men, their children and our communities. Every victim, be they male or female, experiences trauma, which can have a life-lasting impact on their quality of life, happiness, health and ability to be contributing members to their communities. But when men look for help, they are often disbelieved and revictimized by being laughed at, blamed and sometimes even jailed.
The Family Violence department within the Alberta Human Services Ministry published a manual entitled “Men Abused By Women,” which acknowledges the similar rates of domestic violence victimization between men and women and states “our society is beginning to recognize and study the abuse of men by their partners. Society’s inappropriate beliefs and attitudes about men have kept this kind of abuse hidden.” The Alberta Government’s Family Violence Hurts Everyone: A Framework to End Family Violence in Alberta, pledged to ensure every victim was supported and called for extending domestic violence treatment services to “people who might not otherwise have access to those services.” We hope to be a part of implementing this mandate.
Our support for abused men and their families consists of several components:
Therapy objectives include:
Our agency is almost entirely volunteer-based. We need volunteers to fill a variety of key roles, including:
Although our funding mix is diversifying, we still rely on individual contributors for a significant majority of our core operating funds. Please make a charitable donation to our first-of-their kind programs for boys, men and fathers which are making a critical difference in the lives of hundreds of families.
UPDATE: FALL 2019
The capital campaign has built tremendous momentum and we are very close to the finish line. The total fundraising goal for our capital campaign is $150,000, of which we have raised $125,000. At the same time, we have built a Patreon campaign that is bringing in $800/month. We are still looking to fundraise the remaining $25,000, with plans to open Calgary’s first Canadian Centre for Men and Families in 2020. In the meantime, we have established a variety of part-time social service programs in Calgary, as described at https://menandfamilies.org/calgary