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Kids do better when Dad's around, studies show. A Rochester program is helping fathers parent

A dad sits with his daughter while she looks at a screen
Max Schulte
Quinn Piazza and his daughter look at a tablet together.

When Quinn Piazza is not at work, he spends most of his days at home where he and his girlfriend tend to their two small children, Alex, 5 and Aaliya, 2.

Piazza is a confident father now, but it wasn’t always that way for the 23-year-old.

“When I found out I was going to be a father, I was excited and nervous at the same time,” he said.

Piazza was raised primarily by his mother. Since his father wasn’t always around, he said he didn’t have a male role model to learn from.
“I would have to figure out what I needed to do to be a man because he was in and out,” he said.

A child sits in a hammock in a playroom while her dad holds it steady
Max Schulte
Quinn Piazza helps his daughter Aaliya into a hammock.

For Piazza, that trial and error process led to problems. He was hanging out with the wrong crowd and landed himself in and out of jail. However, he knew he had to change for his kids.

“It just finally clicked,” he said. “I couldn't be away from my family because going in and out of jail was messing with them.”

Piazza turned to the Healthy Baby Network’s fatherhood program for guidance and mentorship.

“You cannot teach someone to be a father,” said Rashakim Hudson, lead community health worker for the fatherhood program. “That's exhausting and hard.”

Instead, Hudson said, the program encourages and supports the mental health and well-being of those seeking guidance, like Piazza, which results in better parenting.

“This way they can do better and see clearly in what they want to invest in their child,” Hudson said.

The program coaches fathers – and father figures – through group sessions and one-on-one meetings. Sessions cover topics like what it means to be a man, mental health, dealing with anger, and engaging with children.

Carl Scott, the program’s coordinator, emphasizes the importance of having an open and nonjudgmental environment for fathers to come to.

“We just sit and talk,” Scott said. “Whatever you bring to the table, we're going to talk about it.”

He said one of the goals is to encourage dads to be more involved, especially in the Black and brown communities. But he underscored that the hardest part so far is getting fathers in the door, since many of them hesitate to ask for support.

“We're here to help; you don't have to do it on your own,” Scott said.

This is particularly important as new research into the role of fathers continues to emerge.

Dr. David Hill, a pediatrician and author of the book, “Dad to Dad: Parenting like a Pro” said a father’s involvement has an impact on a child’s development from an early age.

“Investing in keeping dads involved in their children's care is a great investment in health and development for these kids,” Hill said.

Fatherhood Program 02.png
Racquel Stephen
Coordinator Carl Scott (left) and Lead Community Health Worker Rashakim Hudson (right) coach fathers to becoming better role models for their children.

Hill said there are several advantages to having a paternal figure present in a child’s life, such as early language development, decreased mental health episodes and becoming more socially competent. Hill’s definition of a father goes beyond biology. He said having a nurturing, caring, dependable adult, is the No. 1 factor that helps children cope with adversity.

“Having two loving, caring, dependable adults in a child's life are twice as good as having one,” he said.

For dads like Piazza, who don’t have a father of their own to look up to, Hill said it’s important to identify role models.

“Find your heroes and have them tell you what they did,” Hill said.

Racquel Stephen is a health and environment reporter. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Rochester and a master's degree in broadcasting and digital journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
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