Indianapolis Program Connects Fathers and Children

Here’s a nice piece on a program in Indianapolis that aims to help connect young single fathers with their children (Indianapolis Star, 11/28/10).  It’s about a particular program at the Fathers and Families (no affiliation with this organization) Center in that city that teaches parenting courses to young men.

Of course, it’s much needed.

It is a problem seen across the city and one that is especially acute for inner-city children. A 2008 Indianapolis Public Schools survey found that three of four students in the state’s largest school district don’t live with their dad.

Many of these young fathers have themselves grown up without a father in their lives and that makes playing the role of father a brand new – and sometimes alien – world.  Put simply, they don’t have a clue about how to bring up a child.  They don’t know how to relate to a child, how to talk to it or that you should read to it.  They’re willing enough; they just don’t know what to do or how to do it.  Why would they?

So the program helps teach them.  It also offers job training and tries to help them find employment.  That of course isn’t easy in this economy, so only about 30% of the program’s graduates find work.

The Fathers and Families Program recognizes the benefits of fathers to children.

“For most of these young men,” said Brian Carter, a social worker who counseled Griffin through the Fathers and Families program, “their dad wasn’t around in the way they now want to be a constant presence in their child’s lives.”

A father’s lack of attention hampers children’s chances for success in school, academically and socially. Students with active dads are twice as likely to earn “mostly A’s” than students with hands-off dads, and they’re half as likely to be suspended, a U.S. Department of Education study found.

So the program teaches the value of fathers to their children.  It also “promotes marriage, it also promotes getting along with one’s ex, as well as birth control.”

What social science teaches us about these young fathers who aren’t well educated, have minimal job skills and aren’t married to the mother of their children is that they are likely to become marginalized in their children’s lives.  As unmarried mothers find other partners, the fathers of their children find themselves more and more remote from them, regardless of their own wishes. 

That’s what studies from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing data call “Parenting as a Package Deal.”  That is, as single mothers and fathers see it, mother and child come as a package; if Dad loses Mom, he loses baby too.  However much he may want to care for his child, if Mom moves on, he moves out.

So what I look for in programs like the one in Indianapolis is some understanding that, needy as many of these young men are of basic information about children and the dads’ importance to them, mothers need instruction too.  I look for that, but I never seem to find it.

What these young, single mothers need to be taught is that children do best with a biological mother and a biological father to care for them and raise them to adulthood.  That means that, single or not, mothers need to do their part to keep fathers involved.  The dads can’t do it alone.  It takes two.

From President Obama on down, there’s a misconception abroad in the land.  It holds that father absence is all the fault of fathers and their irresponsibility.  That’s not correct.  Teaching responsibility to fathers is important; it’s necessary.  But it’s only half the battle.  Programs like these need to recognize and teach that mothers too have their share of responsibility when children grow up without a father.

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