Reprinted from National League of Cities (www.nlc.org)
Local Fatherhood Initiatives Aim to Strengthen Families
June 27, 2011
by Michael Karpman
More than 24 million American children — about one in three — grow up in homes without their biological father, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Among African American children, two-thirds grow up in fatherless households, and about half of all white children are likely to live without their fathers for some portion of their childhood. Research shows that children with absent fathers are five times more likely to live in poverty, twice as likely to drop out of school and, even after controlling for family income, are more likely to be incarcerated.
Recognizing the important role fathers play in their children’s development, a range of cities are taking action to help fathers be involved in the lives of their children.
NYC Dads-The Mayor’s Fatherhood Initiative
Last week, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg hosted a reception celebrating the first year of NYC Dads‐The Mayor’s Fatherhood Initiative. Joined by New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, the mayor honored 10 outstanding fathers who have overcome extraordinary challenges to become positive parental influences.
In the days leading up to Father’s Day 2010, Mayor Bloomberg launched NYC Dads-The Mayor’s Fatherhood Initiative, directing more than a dozen city agencies to conduct an extensive review of their programs, policies and frontline practices to ensure that fathers were not being unintentionally excluded from or missing opportunities to engage in their children’s lives.
Since then, the Father’s Working Group has worked together to remove barriers to positive fatherhood involvement, taken steps to make their agencies “father friendly,” assisted in the creation of “memorable moments” between fathers and children and increased fathers’ capacity to support their children.
“Strong families make a strong New York,” Mayor Bloomberg said in launching the initiative. “But too many children in this city are growing up without their fathers. We want more children in our city to experience the encouragement, support and love of their fathers. And that’s why all city agencies will work to seize every opportunity to help fathers be a part of their children’s lives.”
A one-year progress report highlights steps that each agency has taken and goals for the next year.
For instance, the New York City Housing Authority now provides child-friendly spaces at community centers where fathers can interact with their children and access services that include family counseling, father support groups, parenting and early literacy classes and employment and college admission workshops.
Noncustodial fathers can learn how to navigate challenges in complying with child support orders, and student fathers and mothers can learn about childcare options as they pursue their high school diploma.
The New York Public Library and the Department of Corrections have partnered to provide inmates who are fathers with parenting and literacy instruction.
A pilot program that trains probation officers to rethink how they approach fathers will be replicated for front-line workers in other agencies. Parenting classes and programs or referrals to appropriate supports are also more widely available through departments of homeless services, health and mental health, parks and recreation and youth and community development.
Focusing on Policy Change
Alan S. Farrell, citywide fatherhood services coordinator, and Andrea Batista Schlesinger, special advisor to the mayor, described New York City’s efforts during an NLC audioconference held last April on “Municipal Leadership for Black Male Achievement.”
The call was held as part of an NLC initiative to support the Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Male Achievement by strengthening municipal leaders’ capacity to improve outcomes for black males in the areas of education, work and family.
“One of the first things we realized was this was not a situation we could program our way out of,” said Schlesinger. “We knew we needed to look at our own agencies and processes. Young men of color are interacting with our educational systems, our justice systems, our health systems, and our police systems all the time.
“We looked at where there are barriers and disparities, where we could provide services better and where we are the problem ... It became clear that you couldn’t deal with improving outcomes for young men if you didn’t address the issue of father absence,” Schlesinger continued.
Also participating as speakers were Milwaukee Alderman Joe Davis and Savannah, Ga., Mayor Otis Johnson. Alderman Davis discussed Mayor Tom Barrett’s Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative, which was launched following an October 2006 summit attended by more than 1,000 fathers.
This initiative consists of several strategies to reduce barriers to responsible fatherhood, including a driver’s license restoration program so that fathers can access job opportunities.
Other components include credits to reduce child support interest debt owed to the state for men who attend summit workshops, a media campaign highlighting the benefits of father involvement and education and employment opportunities to help fathers better support their children.
Mayor Johnson discussed a grassroots effort in Savannah led by the African American Male Achievement Group and supported by city leaders. The group has been proactive in addressing policies — such as disproportionately high out-of-school suspension of black male students — that increase educational disparities, which in turn exacerbates future parenting challenges.
“We are looking at this as a way to stop wasting human capital,” said Mayor Johnson. “For every young black male that does not achieve in this society, there is a cost to that. It reminds me of that Fram commercial, ‘you can pay me now or pay me later.’ If we invest in these young men now, especially in their formative years, we will certainly pay far less in many different ways when they become achievers rather than underachievers.”
Details: To learn more about NYC Dads, visit www.nyc.gov/html/hra/nycdads. To learn about the Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative, visit www.milwaukeefatherhood.com. To learn about the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, visit www.soros.org/initiatives/usprograms/focus/cbma. For more information about NLC’s work in this area, contact Leon Andrews, senior fellow for NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families, at (202) 626-3039 or firstname.lastname@example.org.