One of the most pressing social problems facing America today is that of its children growing up in households without fathers. Twenty-four million kids – a third of all U.S. children – live apart from their biological fathers. In African-American communities, two out of every three live in homes with no dad.
The consequences of growing up without a father present go far beyond just lack of a role model. Children in father-absent homes are five times more likely to be poor and poverty is statistically linked to almost every social ill. Recent studies have shown that children who grow up without a father at home are more likely to get involved with high- risk behavior and to experience educational, health and emotional problems throughout their lives.
In several New Orleans neighborhoods, the odds of growing up without a father at home are even greater. In New Orleans East, Central City and the Ninth Ward, for example, 70 percent or more children live in a house with a mother, grandparents or other relatives – but no father.
Young men need training and education to change this multigenerational pattern of abandoning responsibility for their children. In 1994, The National Fatherhood Initiative was founded to improve the wellbeing of all children by increasing the numbers growing up with involved, responsible and committed fathers. In 2007, the New Orleans Fatherhood Consortium was formed to bring stakeholders together to address the needs of low-income fathers. Fifteen nonprofits were trained to use curricula developed by the Fatherhood Initiative.
Family Service of Greater New Orleans, a nonprofit with the mission of strengthening the emotional health and fostering the self-sufficiency of local families, is launching the NOLA Dads Program to nurture young men in the development of fatherhood skills. Weekly sessions will help young men learn to become nurturing parents, obtain employment and become positive, contributing members of their families and communities.
“A dad’s positive involvement is like a tree with many branches that provides for, protects and nurtures the child,” said Ron McClain, Family Service CEO. “A father’s presence and engagement with a child includes many positive, quality interactions that yield long-term positive effects.”
“It is clear that when fathers are closely involved in their children’s lives, there are positive outcomes in the children’s health and their social, emotional and cognitive wellbeing,” he added. Many young men often become fathers before graduating from high school and before they are fully mature. Their own needs can be identified and met through NOLA Dads and provide them with new coping tools. Young dads must receive emotional support and develop the motivation so that they, in turn, can provide emotional and financial support in their children’s lives.
The effectiveness of the program is dependent on every young man experiencing self-esteem through a close social work relationship with his counselor. The social work relationship breaks down the feelings of isolation and provides role models, not just as fathers or men, but individuals worthy of respect.
Family Service’s long history supporting individuals and families make it an ideal organization to undertake NOLA Dads. With 37 full-time staff and 22 part-time staff, the organization already provides a wide range of counseling services to families and children. In collaboration with the Louisiana Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Behavioral Health, Family Service’s Child Adolescent Response Teams provide crisis counseling to children and their families to prevent unneeded psychiatric hospitalizations. Family Service works with the Jefferson Parish Children’s Advocacy Center to provide counseling to sexually abused children and has partnered with New Orleans’ Charter and Public Schools, as well as Recovery Schools to provide school-based mental health counseling. Surveys completed by clients and school social workers or counselors showed 92.4 percent were satisfied with their work with school children.
Fifty-five young men, ages 15-18, who are already parents, will be recruited from schools in and around the Central City area. Family Service will offer classes through local high schools, Families in Need of Service (FINS), the Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ), and other community organizations. A common theme heard from young men involved in the criminal justice system is that their fathers were never involved in parenting. Family Service hopes to change that by motivating young fathers and giving them the tools they need. The 24/7 Dads curriculum has already been successfully used by more than 500 organizations across the country.
The program has received funding from the Children’s Trust Fund of Louisiana, Rite Aid Foundation and Sean Payton’s Play it Forward Foundation. Thanks to these organizations, Family Service is able to provide the service at no charge to the clients. Family Service anticipates the first classes will commence in September.
The best news is that there has been a 4 percent improvement in the numbers of U.S. homes with present fathers since 2004.