Fathers are Essential to Children’s Well-Being: Working Together to Disrupt Inequality
This isn’t just about fatherhood. It’s about supporting dads as they strive to become better assets to their children, to their families and their communities…by becoming better men. ~ Ed Davies, Director of Community Initiatives, Children’s Home & Aid
Research shows that non-residential fathers can play a role in ameliorating the circumstances that lead to child neglect and abuse. Their involvement in their children’s lives is associated with positive outcomes such as children leaving foster care sooner, and children being significantly less likely to re-enter foster care compared to children whose fathers are not involved.[i]
“I would say for me it (relationship with my co-parent) did improve, it improved because I improved.” ~ Power of Fathers Program Participant
Children’s Home & Aid’s work with fathers to address their histories of trauma that have prevented them from actively participating in their children’s lives began almost five years ago with the collaborative Power of Fathers initiative. The initiative sparked the agency’s commitment to incorporate father engagement as an integral part of our family strengthening efforts. Children’s Home & Aid now has the opportunity to reach fathers in 12 counties in Northern and Central Illinois and to guide other organizations on partnering with fathers to improve outcomes for them and their children.
“This place kept me in this group, kept me from being out on the streets, just doing God knows what, you know? The mentorship, the counseling here, you can’t really put a price on that.” ~ Power of Fathers Program Participant
The Power of Fathers initiative supported low-income men of color in Chicago’s Greater Englewood and North Lawndale communities in becoming better assets to their families and communities. The challenges faced by fathers from these historically marginalized communities, including joblessness, mental health issues and involvement in the criminal justice system, reflect disparities rooted in centuries of racism and structural violence. Power of Fathers dads participated in community organizing and advocacy training and engaged in activities to confront the issues disproportionately affecting their communities.
Through the program, fathers received the tools to chip away at the barriers blocking their success. Early results from Power of Fathers show participating dads spent more time with their children, improved their parenting and co-parenting skills and improved their overall relationships with their children and co-parents.
“It’s just momentous change because of this program. Because of my brothers. They sit and they talk to me. They don’t talk at me. Nobody in here put nobody down. And this is one of the greatest things that a father needs.” ~ Power of Fathers Program Participant
Children’s Home & Aid has received new funding that allows us to enhance our father engagement efforts in all of our programs and to apply what we have learned through Power of Fathers to other organizations and communities in Illinois. The Michael D. and Jolynn Blair Family Foundation provided a grant to Children’s Home & Aid to provide technical assistance to other organizations to start their own father engagement programs. The federally-funded Fatherhood Family-focused, Interconnected, Resilient, and Essential (Fatherhood FIRE) initiative awarded a five-year grant to Children’s Home & Aid to continue the fatherhood programming we developed in the Chicago metro area and expand it to the nine-county area around Champaign and Bloomington and the three-county area around Rockford.
This new work will take shape under the Thriving Fathers and Families program, which will officially launch on May 1, 2021 and provide more opportunities for fathers and families throughout the state to connect, learn and grow alongside each other. Comprised of a six-month virtual curriculum, dads enrolled in the Thriving Fathers and Families program will have access to a variety of free activities and information, including:
- Job preparation and placement
- Child support and custody
- Referrals to legal assistance
- Family building activities
- Referrals and educational supports
- Personal growth
- Parenting and co-parenting classes
- Economic incentives for participation
Ed Davies, Director of Community Initiatives at Children’s Home & Aid, is looking forward to the ways in which the Thriving Fathers and Families program will help ensure that every child, every family and every community thriving.
We’ve learned a lot about father engagement through Power of Fathers, and how to better support our dads. I’m excited to incorporate these lessons as we kick-off the Thriving Fathers and Families program, and work across the state to support more families and communities. When safe spaces are provided for fathers to form healthy and supportive relationships amongst themselves, they are able to challenge each other to grow and be better parents. ~ Ed Davies, Director of Community Initiatives at Children’s Home & Aid
Systemic and institutional racism plagues marginalized communities and manifests itself as overrepresentation of people of color in corrective systems, including the child welfare and juvenile and criminal justice systems. Racism and discrimination significantly contribute to chronic stress that can lead to long-term, debilitating physical health conditions and mental health issues. Discrimination has influenced perceptions of families’ strengths and abilities which can lead to actions and interventions ultimately harmful to child and youth well-being.
Our fatherhood engagement work is demonstrating that we can disrupt the impact of these disparities when agencies like Children’s Home & Aid confront our shortcomings and examine our own practices that may separate and marginalize fathers. When we listen to fathers and work with them as partners and guides, fathers can achieve successes which expand the opportunities for their own children and families.
This work wouldn’t be possible without the commitment of our funding partners and the support of our donor community. Visit our Thriving Fathers and Families site to learn more about the new program and how to become involved.
[i] Casey Family Programs, Issue Brief Strong Families, 2019, https://caseyfamilypro-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/media/SF_Engaging-Fathers-Prevention.pdf
*These services through the Thriving Fathers & Families program are available to all eligible persons, regardless of race, gender, disability or religion.
**The production of this story was supported by Grant 90ZJ0053-01-00 from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families. Its content is solely the responsibility of Children’s Home & Aid and does not necessarily represent the official views of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families.