County reaching out to make social services 'male friendly'

By LINDA THIELKE, Journal American Staff Writer
Copyright: Journal American, Bellevue, WA, Thursday, September 26th 1996

King County wants to make its social service programs more "male friendly."

That doesn't mean there will be power tools and pork rinds at family shelters and counseling centers. What county officials and men's rights activists want to see is more men taking advantage of the services available to everyone.

"There is lots of literature showing social services weren't developed with men's issues in mind," said Jim Henning, with King County's Department of Community and Health Services.

"And agencies admit they haven't done too much to be aware of why men don't use their services more."

Some of the greatest barriers are getting men to admit they need help, and to feel comfortable seeking it out. Agencies that stress services to female victims of domestic violence and single-parent families headed by women can inadvertently send the wrong message to men in need.

"Often men are made to feel they are automatically the problem," said Dave Ault, one of three men who first approached the county with the idea.

"And, men themselves frequently have the misperception that a man should always be able to fend for himself."

Over the past four months, Henning's department has worked with the men and family service providers across the country. The working group developed a plan that focuses on offering physical and mental health counseling for men dealing with fatherhood, parental responsibility and other family issues.

"There are a lot of resources for women which we applaud," said Ault, "but there is a terrific lack of resources for men in the area."

"There needs to be more of an outreach to men, so they feel they can ask for help."

The plan was approved by a County Council committee on Tuesday, and is being forwarded to the full council with a "do pass" recommendation.

Community and Human Services has been able to gather about $10,000 from the existing county budget to fund a pilot program involving several agencies including Friends of Youth in Redmond And Eastside Health Start.

Sharon Webb, program manager for Eastside Health Start, which provides home visits to new parents, said her group is trying to work with the father as well as the mother.

"It's easy to get focused on just the mother," Webb said. "We need to do a better job including males from the beginning, whether they reside with the child or not."

Her group is trying to recruit more men as employees and volunteers, she said.

Henning said each of the agencies will be evaluated in the following areas:

After a year, success will be measured through a men's survey conducted at Little League games, video stores, libraries, churches, barber shops and other places where men tend to gather to gather.

Henning says the ultimate goal is to foster a "cultural change" that results in increased male participation in human services programs.

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