Destination Fatherhood

What if social service agencies believed that every father has the inherent ability to be a caring and engaged father?

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Danny G, a noncustodial parent in the Bennettsville fatherhood program, has two children who were in an abusive situation with the custodial mother. His efforts to be considered as a custodial parent were ignored by social services until he had assistance from a local fatherhood program. With fatherhood staff by his side advocating on his behalf, he received the support he needed and was able to obtain custody of his children who now live in a safe and loving home with their father.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian)
  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)

Website

http://www.scfathersandfamilies.com/

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • South Carolina

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

Columbia

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • South Carolina

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Charleston, Greenville, Lancaster, Columbia, Florence, Myrtle Beach, Georgetown, Spartanburg, Bennettsville, Aiken, Lexington, Sumter, Anderson, Conway

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Due to ingrained institutional and cultural biases, fueled by public policy, noncustodial fathers are dismissed as viable caretakers for their children. Family support programs focus on single mothers, while fathers are viewed as “dead beat” and irrelevant to their child’s well-being. Often, fathers are not included in agency decisions affecting their children. In times of crisis noncustodial fathers are not aware their children are being removed from the custodial mother’s home, or are not considered as a viable option to be the custodial parent. In fact, the SC Foster Care Review Board only recommends placement with a relative 1% of the time, despite the acute shortage of suitable foster homes for the 2,782 children needing foster care! Clearly, there are artificial barriers imposed between fathers and their children that defeat a child’s sense of self-worth and belonging.

Most men want to be good fathers, but some need help getting there. Many face barriers such as unemployment, lack of a positive parenting role model, or legal issues. That’s where we come in. The South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families is the hub for a network of six fatherhood program centers in South Carolina with a mission to provide the means for fathers to become great dads. These centers help fathers obtain jobs, strengthen their parenting skills, build better relationships with their children's mothers, and navigate the maze of child support. We provide a support network and advocacy for noncustodial fathers who often struggle with paying child support, distrust formal institutions, and feel confused. We provide a wide array of intensive services under one roof over an extended period of time. We encourage our dads to stick with our program for six months or more and not solve just the crisis of the day. It takes time to change, but it’s time well-spent. We work with a broad network of state and local level partners to provide the comprehensive services non-custodial dads need.

We are now working to erase institutional biases against noncustodial fathers and help create father friendly practices by creating a trusting two-way bridge between the public child welfare agency and noncustodial fathers, so that fathers who are ready to be more involved in their children’s lives or assume custody will be considered. For instance, in one location we developed a model where fathers were consulted in family finding meetings. If a father was seen as possible but not yet ready for placement, they are referred to us for parenting classes. A designated fatherhood staff helps assess individuals based upon 3 required areas: permanence, well-being, and safety. We also provide support services to help remove barriers to being an engaged parent, help fathers navigate the child welfare system, and link them to the resources they need so that their children will thrive and they can feel pride in fulfilling their role as providers for their children’s financial and emotional well-being. We also help fathers understand the trauma children may have experienced and how to create resiliency in children and themselves. As a result, not only do children feel accepted, have a sense of belonging, and have natural familial ties, but fathers regain their sense of self-worth. Child welfare agencies are now confident that graduates of our fatherhood program are equipped to be the best caregivers they can be.

Part of the solution to influencing father friendly practices is helping our partner agency achieve positive results through keeping children out of foster care and within a healthy and safe environment. For many years, the Center has partnered with child support enforcement to help fathers become employed, provide support for children, and advocate for visitation. We are now working to increase father friendly practices and partnerships with child welfare. Our track record has shown that when agencies and fatherhood programs become trusted partners, everyone wins. Public agency operational costs such as court costs, incarceration costs, foster care costs (reduction in number of foster care homes needed) are reduced and collaboration increases between agency and fatherhood staff. Most importantly, children experience the involved and responsible fathers that they deserve.

Both organizations, social services and fatherhood programs, highly desire satisfying results for all concerned. Building partnerships between the child welfare agency and fatherhood programs opens a very promising pathway toward achieving this outcome. Working together and employing strategies for outreach, communication, education and awareness can truly initiate cultural change designed to stabilize the lives of children.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Child and Family Services
  • Other

If you chose "other," please share the sector you work within here:

Family Court

Year Founded

2002

Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

When Danny joined the fatherhood program, he was working odd jobs to send money to his children’s mother. When funds were sparse, the mother denied visitation for his 2 children. Fatherhood staff drove him to NC 3 times to get his child support modified, get credit for payments to the mother, and keep him out of jail. Aware that the children’s mother had a drug problem, Danny reached out to DSS in NC for help. He got nowhere. Staff took him back to DSS and learned that his son saw his mother’s boyfriend shoot at her. They immediately filed for the children’s emergency placement with Danny. Staff partnered with legal services to get additional help. Today Danny has permanent custody, works full time and provides for his children.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

In 2015, we provided 58 Father Friendly training sessions to 1,740 state child welfare staff. The training was designed to increase the awareness of the barriers noncustodial fathers face and provide instruction on how to include them in conversations about their children. As a result, relationships are growing and attitudes are changing. In our pilot site, we provided state mandated parent training and a joint review of the fathers’ potential for custodial placement. As a result, 163 children were kept in their homes (saving the state $5.3 million) and 54 fathers gained custody, which increased children’s sense of belonging by enhancing their connection to their biological fathers. Statewide, we served 1,581 noncustodial fathers with 3,471 children. By 2020, we expect to double the numbers and further reduce the necessity for foster care. We intend to take this model to scale statewide.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • over $5mil

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The Center was founded in 2002, and through federal, state and private funding, we have created a sustainable financial approach. Our primary partner, the state’s child welfare system, has sustainable funds. Our focus is on demonstrating the impact of our joint efforts so that we can provide the evidence needed to bring down barriers, change biases about noncustodial fathers, and tell the story in a bigger and more compelling way.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

The SC Center for Fathers and Families is the only organization in SC with fathers central to our mission. We take a holistic approach to addressing challenges fathers face. Because of the unique partnership with the Department of Social Services, we are the only public private partnership in the nation with a network of fatherhood programs offering services statewide. Often, social service agencies serve mothers and children, and ignore fathers. Because of our approach, partnership and experience working with fathers, we are uniquely positioned to address the needs of children.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

We believe the same biases in child welfare exist in all traditional institutions (schools, churches, employers, prisons). The fatherhood field is relatively new. Historically, the trend has been intact families, but as single families grew, fathers were marginalized producing horrific consequences on children’s well-being. Much of this is rooted in policies – from HUD to DSS to tax laws, there is a bias against men and unwed fathers. While we may never go back to intact families, we nevertheless need to include and value fathers. The definition of family has changed; so too should policies.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Program Design Clarity

A. Children, parents, SC DSS
B. Fatherhood staff attends DSS Family Team Meetings and acts as a bridge when DSS refers clients to our parenting classes as a part of a parenting plan. We encourage to enroll in our entire program to access job search services, mediation, individual counseling and referrals to partners for additional services.
C. Eighteen 90 minute sessions held weekly at fatherhood site
D. Fatherhood program staff
E. Staff reports to DSS on clients’ compliance and behavior changes. Attends Foster Care Review Meetings and speaks on behalf of clients for custody or visitation.

Community Leadership

We solicit fathers’ feedback through participant surveys that are analyzed and conduct focus groups. The feedback helps to enhance services and to be stronger advocates to address biases in policies and practices. We engaged our stakeholders in a strategic planning process and through ongoing meetings to incorporate strategies to serve the whole family. Our employer advisory councils help us better prepare fathers to overcome employment barriers.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 0-1.5
  • 1.5 -3
  • 3 - 5
  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

To shape polices, practices and attitudes, we will convene stakeholders and policymakers, host summit on noncustodial fathers, build champions in DSS, expand father-friendly training, develop recommendations to strengthen father-friendly policies and the practice of diligent search, strengthen cross agency collaboration and refine service delivery model. Key connections include DSS, other parenting organizations and human service organizations.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

We encourage fathers to reexamine familial relationships that contribute to their sense of self, identity and belonging. We believe that only when fathers understand the origins of their emotional health will they be in a position to help their children thrive. We work to help fathers strengthen their parenting skills, confidence and healthy relationships so that they and their extended families are forever connected to their children.

Leadership Story

As a program officer with a foundation charged with reducing poverty, I was captivated by research that connected negative outcomes for children to single female-headed households. Hearing David Blankenhorn, author of Fatherless America, speak was the ah-ha moment. I thought, “These are not single female headed households; they are father-absent households. But why?” My journey began to understand fathers. I found men broken and lonely. They feel powerless and hopeless. Even now, with passion and courage, I believe that strengthening fathers is the best way to strengthen families.

Organization's Twitter Handle

@SCFathers

Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)

https://www.facebook.com/SCCFF

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Photo of Christine
Team

Ah, for the day when individuals are judged as individuals, and stereotypes and prejudices don't interfere with what is best for any person.  Your program seems like it is a good starting point for helping fathers regain their right to be considered in their child's life.  Best wishes!

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