Engage children, youth and family-focused agencies in a systematic macro participatory action research process that will: 1) increase their conversation and build their awareness of the value of Fathers in the lives of Children, and 2) enhance their capacity to improve outcomes for children, by encouraging agency leadership to consider innovative strategies to expand their philosophies, policies, practices, procedures, and protocols to endorse the involvement of Fathers as additional support in the care of their children.
The Project is based on the premise that too many children are growing up without the emotional, social, intellectual, spiritual and financial support of both parents in a healthy and supportive environment, due to divorce, separation, or failure of parents to form a stable healthy relationship to support the needs of their children. The premise is supported by Annie E. Casey Kids Count 2016 data that 25 million of America’s children lived in single-parent families and that thirty-five percent (35%) of all American families are headed by a single parent. Additional support is provided by the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) coining of the term “Father Absence” as a contributing factor to the number of children who are experiencing America’s child welfare and/or juvenile justice systems of care.
In the City of Philadelphia most child and family agencies engaged in foster care service delivery, through contracts given by the city’s Department of Human Services, had not included Fathers as an integral part of their Service Delivery and Practice Models. This practice was inconsistent with an often cited Federal 2006 Report titled “What about the Dads?” which established the potential importance of engaging Fathers of foster children when attempting to build the child-father relationship (when such a relationship does not pose a risk to the child’s safety or well-being), thus, enhancing the worker’s ability to make broader placement decisions, and gain additional access to resources for the child.
In short, the Project “The Integration of Responsible Fatherhood within Foster Care Service Delivery and Other Children and Youth Servicing Systems” seeks to encourage change in current practice and to initiate new programming initiatives that would do two things: 1) strengthen the capacity of agencies to include Fathers in their service delivery models, and 2) address systemic barriers through advocacy that hinder the involvement of Fathers in the lives of their children.
Regarding the question, what do you see as your project’s most promising aspects for ensuring children grow up with a strong sense of self, purpose, and belonging? My answer is simple – Receipt of emotional, social, intellectual, spiritual and financial support from both parents, as well as extended maternal and paternal families members. By making sure that Fathers and the paternal side of the family are included in the mix, children are at least afforded a change for a clear identity.
As to the child’s purpose, the supports mentioned above provided by the parents actually strengthens the child’s ability to find and embrace his/her own purpose in life. The strong sense of self with a purpose forms the foundation for feeling safe and secure. A feeling of belonging comes most readily when the child feels secure in a community where he/she is welcomed.
A Father’s contribution can add to the child’s sense of self, purpose in life, and most of all provide an additional sense of belonging. In that regard, the project champions the conversation and build an awareness of the value of Responsible Fatherhood within foster care service delivery and other children and youth servicing systems, through the initiation of the much needed dialog, by and among children, youth, and family-focused agencies, regarding the importance of healthy Father Involvement in the lives of children to enhance their well-being across-systems of care.
There is ample evidence of the inability of children, youth and family-focus serving entities to include paternal resources to maximize child well-being. These limitations are not a new phenomenon and are precipitated and sustained by a variety of factors, including policies underlying the funding on which the entities must rely, training and technical assistance needed that goes unmet, and operational philosophies, practices, policies, procedures and protocols that do not include the presence of Fathers. Because of the complexities of the problem the project demanded a multi-faceted approach which it provides, given raise to encouraging results of added Father Inclusiveness within agencies.
Key dimensions of the project, to gather the most up-to date information regarding project agencies, keep apprised of their best practices, and monitor their practice enhancement initiatives, are as follows:
Evidence based learning
Reciprocal knowledge building and exchange
Responsible fatherhood training and curriculum design
Technical assistance in the form of individual agency consultation for capacity building
Strategies for agency system-wide policy and practice change