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FATHERS NOT FOGOTTEN

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Valerie Walton's job is to educate parents - that means mothers and fathers. Ms. Walton is a parent educator with the Parents as Teachers program in Florissant, Mo. She has taken on the mission of coaxing and encouraging fathers to participate in the state's parent-education program.

About 20 percent of fathers are present at the monthly home visits Walton conducts. Some of the fathers come home on their lunch break to participate in the home visit, Walton says.

For those who cannot attend, Walton makes a special effort to call and update them on the meeting. She also makes sure to personally invite the fathers to group meetings held in the evening.

Her efforts have proved successful: Walton gets 60 percent of fathers in the families she works with to attend the group meetings. In these meetings, parents get together to talk about parenting and share experiences.

``I think we should try as hard as we can to get fathers involved since it really is a partnership between mom and dad,'' Walton says.

``Fathers tend to get shunted aside a lot,'' says Marsha Gebhardt, a St. Louis parent educator.

But the Parents as Teachers program is committed to including fathers in all its activities. ``We try to encourage the father to participate in the program to the extent possible,'' says Mildred Winter, director of the Parents as Teachers National Center in St. Louis. ``You can't require it, you can only encourage and facilitate.''

Steve and Elaine Marsden, parents participating in the Parents as Teachers program, find that the home visits provide a good opportunity for them to think and talk about their different approaches to parenting.

``Marsha will ask questions and we have different answers,'' Mrs. Marsden says.

``It helps us to talk more about it,'' Mr. Marsden says.

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