Engagement: Fatherhood Across ACF Programs

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Orlando, Florida

Engagement: Fatherhood Across ACF Programs

The National Partnership for Community Leadership

Thank you, Jeffery for the warm introduction.

It is a pleasure to be here today to address the 15th Annual Fatherhood Conference sponsored by the National Partnership for Community Leadership.

The work your organization has done to spotlight the important role fathers play in their families and communities is crucial to the continued success of healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood programs all over the country.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to recognize two other leaders in the responsible fatherhood movement: Daniel Thomas and Shawn O’Neil.

Daniel and Shawn are men dedicated to the premise that we can all be responsible fathers if we’re just shown the way and provided with the tools to succeed.

Sunday is Fathers’ Day.

Fatherhood is the greatest gift a man can receive. No role is more important for a man to play, no job more demanding, and no endeavor more rewarding.

Being a strong role model, providing compassionate, yet firm guidance and discipline, and nurturing your own children are the hallmarks of responsible, loving fathers;  hallmarks of fathers who are actively engaged in the lives of their daughters and sons.

That is why we honor and celebrate these traits every year.

As sons and daughters, we ask so much from our Fathers. As Fathers, we endeavor to provide the best possible lives we can for our children.

That is why it is important as a nation to provide all fathers with the tools they need to be supportive and nurturing.

As President Obama has said, “What makes you a man is not the ability to conceive a child, it’s having the courage to raise one.”

All across government, President Obama and his Administration have worked to increase the number of fathers who can actively engage in their children’s intellectual, emotional, and financial well-being as well as their healthy development.

A Father who attains stable, family-supporting employment, a Father who is positively involved with his children, a Father who understands his unique role in the development of his children is the foundation for healthier children, happier families and stronger communities.

As it is a Father’s responsibility to provide for and nurture his children, it is our Nation’s responsibility to provide supports for those Fathers who need them to realize their full potential as shapers of the next generation.

And this is not just rhetoric. Our President has made a commitment to strengthening families by giving mothers and fathers who want a better life for their families access to quality affordable health care, family building programs, training for good jobs in health care and other fields, and expanded access to high-quality child care so a parent can go to work with one less thing to worry about every day.

As the President has placed a major emphasis on the importance of fatherhood, ACF funds a set of initiatives across the country, seeking to encourage healthy marriages and responsible fatherhood.

Congressional funding for these efforts began ten years ago, and we’re continuing to learn from them.  Early evaluations suggested that just focusing on relationship skills alone may not be enough to generate positive results.

When we funded the most current round in 2010, we encouraged programs to take a comprehensive approach in working with fathers and families, helping parents to have better relationships with each other, strengthening parenting skills, and helping fathers and mothers get and keep the jobs they need to bring economic stability to families.

At the same time, our Administration has encouraged and supported an important broadening of strategies used by state and local child support programs

And, the child support program has changed dramatically in recent years.

In the last number of years, the child support program has evolved from a narrow focus on enforcement and collection to a program guided by the principle that children need the financial and emotional support of both parents, and is grounded in the recognition that not all fathers have the means to make significant child support payments without some help, if they don’t have a job.

Across the country, local child support offices are partnering with fatherhood programs, workforce programs and community colleges, going into prisons to reduce orders, and working with returning veterans. 

The Administration’s budget proposal urges Congress to enact an initiative to bolster states’ efforts to direct more of the support collected to children and integrate parenting plan arrangements in the support order establishment process so that we can encourage and support the involvement of both parents in the lives of their children. 

Sometimes, a low income couple considering marriage has to face the risk that getting married could actually cost them money, because of the ways in which marriage affects taxes and benefits in public programs. 

In his State of the Union Address this year, the President said that we would work to remove financial deterrents to marriage for low income couples. 

Following up on this, our budget proposes that Congress fund an initiative to identify deterrents to marriage in public programs and rigorously test a demonstration addressing marriage deterrents.

These investments are worth it. With them we can imagine a country where every child grows up knowing a father’s love and devotion.
And that’s where each and every one of you comes in. Every one of you is here because you share the President’s vision. You believe we can make a difference.

And we can.

Through your good works in communities all over this country you’re engaging fathers in their children’s lives in ways the skeptical would not believe and the cynical could not comprehend.

Because of the programs and services you provide, we have been able to engage more than 90,000 parents…most of them fathers…in the President’s Healthy Marriage-Responsible Fatherhood Initiative.

Through father engagement strategies you’ve worked with fathers to teach them parenting skills, and more importantly co-parenting relationship skills and behaviors.

But you didn’t stop there, you’ve also provided critical job training to prepare fathers for employment, especially those fathers who’ve experienced great difficulties in obtaining jobs.

Because of your work, more than 20,000 Fathers have taken the Pledge for the President’s fatherhood and mentoring Initiative.
And, thanks to you, more than 10,000 fathers have participated in the President’s Fatherhood Buzz Initiative – this effort helps disseminate critical information to fathers through a network of barbershops in at least 25 cities around the United States.

But your commitment and work didn’t end there, working alongside our program offices, you’ve helped us implement a special outreach initiative to African Americans, Latinos, Asian and Pacific Islanders and Native American and Alaskan Natives to support and encourage responsible Fatherhood, based on the President’s initiative. 

Together we have done much, and together we will do much more.

In Nashville, through the Public Health Department we are supporting the “Boot Camp for DADs.”

The Office of Family Assistance is partnering with Txt4Babies to deliver positive and informative messages to expecting or new parents about the importance of positive engagement and behaviors to ensure that children are born healthy.

Through the Ad Council and a partnership with Universal Studios we’ve developed two public service announcements to reach a broader audience to inform fathers of the benefits of regular involvement in their children’s lives.

We expect these ads to begin airing this weekend in time for Father’s Day.

Across the agency we’ve been working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice and the Department of Labor to improve the outcomes of the re-entry populations with regards to parental involvement and gaining employment.
From the Offices of Child Care and Head Start we’re engaging fathers with positive approaches to the earliest stages of their young children’s lives.

We’re working with you and state authorities to create a child support system nationwide that encourages support within the system while reducing the need for enforcement. 

We know that an involved parent is a supportive one. Our job is to give parents the skills to be supportive, emotionally as well as financially.
Since parental well-being is the cornerstone to child well-being and family well-being, we have created an agency-wide fatherhood working group that is applying the philosophy of positive engagement wherever there is an opportunity to engage fathers with their children. 

Together we have done much, and together we will do much more.

In a short time, we have come a long way. We have tried many approaches, techniques and philosophies in our efforts to provide fathers with tools that will actually get the job done.

Because in the end, we all know, sometimes all you really need to complete the job is the right tool.

There are many tools in the box. 

The right one is a solution. Choose it wisely and use it properly and you will complete the project successfully.

But we’re not talking hammers and drills and screwdrivers. We’re talking complex programming to engage fathers.

Programming that was designed ambitiously and implemented enthusiastically.

Innovative programming that has evolved quickly and responsively.

So, now as the theme of this conference suggests, we’ve reached the next stage. It is time to focus on evidence and outcomes.

In other words, while we all continue to innovate, we need to understand what really works and what the underlying challenges to success ultimately are.

To do this, HHS is investing in research and evaluations that we hope will help guide future directions and provide lessons that will help us and you continue to learn and, as appropriate, refine services to help Dads do what they want to do – be there for their kids.

There are a few studies I want to highlight so you know what we are doing.  

We are currently working in partnership with evaluators and four Responsible Fatherhood grantees (as well as three Healthy Marriage grantees) to carry out a study that involves randomly assigning fathers to a group that will receive the program services and a group that will not.

This study is called Parents and Children Together – we refer to it as PACT.   Information will be collected from both groups of fathers about 12 months after they enroll in the study on a lot of topics like their level of involvement with their kids, their own well-being, and their jobs – to assess the programs’ impacts. 

The study will also document the programs’ approach and the range of services provided. 

And, importantly, this study will include a large focus on hearing directly from the dads about their life experiences and views and hopes and dreams, as well as challenges.

We also have launched a rigorous national demonstration project to test whether employment services and case management offered by the child support program will result in better employment, earnings and child support outcomes for fathers and their children. 

We also supported what we called an “evidence review” that produced a catalogue of studies of programs serving low-income fathers. 

The catalogue is a good resource to find out about program approaches that have been studied and what the findings were. 

Another thing this review did was to rate the studies.  This means that studies with stronger research designs that allow us to say the program caused the results, get a higher rating. 

While it is all good information, the rating tells you the extent to which we can have confidence the program studied led to the outcomes.
We also recently announced a new grant opportunity to establish a Responsible Fatherhood Research Network. 

This will be one grant to an organization that will work with other organizations, including responsible fatherhood programs, to conduct pilot tests and share information broadly, to help build communication channels between researchers and practitioners, and to help build evaluation capacity by sharing the knowledge and experience among and across researchers and practitioners. 

We expect to make this award in September.

There are a number of new studies that we expect to launch before the end of the year. 

One will be a review of healthy marriage and parenting curricula that have been used by healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood grantees. 

This can be a resource tool to learn about the content and other dimensions of a number of curricula all in one place. 
Another will involve talking to program administrators – like you - about the opportunities for men to get healthcare coverage under the new provisions of healthcare reform. 

We want to learn from you as much as we can to make sure we get this information out to these men newly eligible for coverage. 
Another study will be looking at best practices among home visiting programs focused on healthy child development that actively involve fathers as well as mothers.

And we have begun a parenting time opportunities grant project to identify promising models for coordinating child support and parenting time orders.

As innovation and implementation get more and more acquainted with research and evaluation, we expect your approaches to strengthening fathers, strengthening mothers and strengthening families to become even more effective.

Ten years ago, when this all started, there were those who doubted and scoffed, but not you.

You charged ahead, believing you could make a difference.

You remind me of the story of Bumble Bee.

All scientific research has concluded that the Bumble Bee cannot fly: its wing span is too short and its body is too heavy. The only problem is no one told the Bumble Bee of its aerodynamic deficiencies.

Like the Bumble Bee, you are proving the pundits wrong.

Several years ago, Bobby Kennedy wrote some words about his own father that I’d like to share. He wrote, “What it really all adds up to is love—not love as it is described with such facility in popular magazines, but the kind of love that is affection and respect, order and encouragement and support.”

I think back on my own father and realize what so many children need is someone there to say, “I love you,” when you most need to hear it.

Thank you.

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