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.