The Office of Child Support Enforcement knows that when children have the love and support of both parents, they have a greater chance of succeeding in life. However, a two-parent household is not always realistic. For years, the federal office has encouraged fathers to stay involved in their children’s lives if they do not live in the same household. Recently, OCSE worked with another federal agency that has a similar goal.
Four years ago, staff members at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development decided to help fathers reconnect with their families for many of the same reasons as OCSE. Officials also knew many of the families they touched through public housing programs were in families led by single mothers. If 75 percent of families in public housing do not include fathers, it may seem strange that HUD is trying to connect with dads. “We want fathers to connect with their children, but we’re also eager to give mothers a break,” noted HUD's Linda Bronsdon. Officials used Father’s Day as a starting point to get fathers involved in their children’s lives.
Officials at the Public Housing Support Services office saw that some local public housing authorities (PHAs) were hosting events where dads could come in to bond with their children through fun activities such as reading aloud together. In many cases, the event also gave fathers a place to get information about employment programs and learn about available health and legal resources.
According to the Reconnecting Families and Dads website, in 2009, “209 PHAs from 33 states held Father’s Day events. An estimated 22,000 fathers, children, mothers and many others participated in events that local public housing authorities held all over the nation.”
In May, two HUD officials, Ron Ashford, director of Public Housing Support Services, and Linda Bronsdon, Public and Indian Housing Environmental Clearance officer, came to OCSE to develop a new partnership that could bring more services to fathers through these local events. The pair briefed child support regional program managers on the Reconnecting Families and Dads program and asked for their help in linking local child support agencies to public housing Father’s Day festivities. Local organizations such as the Fatherhood Initiative of Connecticut and the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services office in Lafayette have joined in with public housing projects in their area.
Partnerships like these are not unusual for child support offices. In 2010, OCSE teamed up with the American Bar Association and the Department of Veterans Affairs to help end homelessness among veterans. Thom Campbell, the Veterans and Military Liaison Network lead for OCSE, said, “The child support debts some veterans have, coupled with other financial and legal hardships, often make it difficult for them to find permanent housing.” By the end of 2011, participating sites reported that they had helped 1,000 veterans and resolved nearly
$800,000 in state-owed child support debt (read more about OCSE’s military and veterans collaborations through these fact sheets, Ending Homelessness Among Veterans: OCSE, VA, ABA Project).
While it is too soon to tell how fruitful this OCSE-HUD partnership will be for fathers and their families, OCSE and HUD believe that it will be successful. Bronsdon said, “Initial contacts between regional managers and specific housing agencies seem promising; either to work together for a Father’s Day event in 2015 or to start dialogues with either parent through the local public housing agency.” For information on the HUD program, visit the Reconnecting Families and Dads website.