Fatherhood Conference

Fatherhood Conference

June 14, 2012

Thank you Carlis for that warm introduction.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen. I bring you greetings today from President Obama who understands just how important this conference is. That is why these proceedings are being simulcast live to the White House.

It is a real pleasure to speak to you today at such a critical point in the development of new approaches to creating healthier marriages, stronger family relationships and more responsible fathers.

As Father’s Day approaches I’d like to take a moment to talk about my dad…..

My father fought in both World Wars and was retired by the time I was born. It was, I guess, a lot like having a father and a grandfather all at the same time. And since my older brothers and sisters were grown and gone, I pretty much had mom and dad all to myself.

And even though Dad passed before I graduated from high school I got to spend a lot time with him.

In that time, he taught me the necessity of hard work; the meaning of honesty and integrity and the power of love.

As a child you don’t think about the implications of your dad working long hours to provide a home… food… clothing…. and still have enough time left over to show you how to grow into a young man or young woman.

Then one day, he’s gone, and you begin to realize just how important his presence was in your life.

But that’s only for those of us fortunate enough to have a father who actively participated in our lives, who knew how we were doing in school, attended our games and recitals and provided advice, guidance and love along the way.

The importance of having a father in your life cannot be overstated.

President Obama said it best when he said, “Our children don’t need us to be superheroes. They don’t need us to be perfect. They need us to show up and give it our best shot, no matter what else is going on in our lives. They need us to show them, not just with words, but with deeds, that they, those kids, are always our first priority.”

For those of us who grow up without that love, without that presence and without that protection, the statistics are heart-wrenching and tragic.

If you are attending this conference, you know them well.

One out of every three children in America lives in a home without a father; one out of three. That’s roughly 24 million children in this country.

What’s more, children who grow up without a father in the home are two to three times more likely than their peers with active, involved fathers to live in poverty, use drugs and engage in criminal behavior. 

They are also more likely to become victims of child abuse, and experience emotional, health and educational problems.

So much despair. But what have we as professionals done to alleviate this despair? For too long, we channeled our programming to the negative side of the equation.

We viewed nonresident fathers as a scourge at the root of the problem.

We enacted punitive laws that further alienated those decent men who just didn’t know how to be committed loving fathers. How could they be when, very likely, they had no father in their lives to teach them?

Instead of giving them tools to overcome their circumstances, we gave them prison for not having the ability to pay child support.

Instead of uplifting them, we drove them underground where they hid from their children and their responsibilities.

Ultimately, the greatest single accomplishment of this conference, the conference organizers and all of you attending, is the realization and the commitment to do things differently.

And your President hears you, understands where you’re coming from and knows that to move forward, to make lives better for children we have got to involve dads when and where possible.

It is no longer enough to say we passed tougher laws for noncustodial parents who don’t pay their child support.

It is no longer acceptable to turn our backs on young or incarcerated fathers assuming their lack of involvement is a sign of irreparable dysfunction.

I say these things are no longer acceptable as if this philosophical change occurred overnight. It didn’t.

This new approach is two decades in the making and is the result of the hard work and dedication of men and women like:

Joe Jones, Jeffery Johnson,  Ron Mincy,  Kirk Harris,  and Julie Baumgardner.

All of whom you will have the opportunity to hear speak and interact with during this conference.

As we begin to embrace this new vision of meaningful inclusion, targeted assistance, and programming that empowers instead of imprisons, we must remember that it is new, relatively speaking, in practice.

We have seen well-established programs in Baltimore and Oakland, but we don’t have universally implemented best practices. Yet.

In pockets like Seattle and the Bronx, we have seen young men leaving prison and connecting or reconnecting with their children, but we don’t have scores and scores of success stories. Yet.

I want to assure you that President Obama, Secretary Sebilius, and I are committed to helping parents and children to become economically independent and self-sufficient through job training and educational enhancements, substance abuse and domestic violence counseling and other proven interventions.

But our commitment and your commitment are just the beginning. For we still see babies being born to single mothers, or fathers who are leaving and shirking their responsibility to their….our… next generation.

I do want to take a minute to be clear about child support enforcement. If a parent can pay, he will. If he has the means, but doesn’t pay, he will feel the full force of the law.

We will never equivocate on that position.

However, where it’s safe, where it makes sense, where it’s the right thing to do, we will work with fathers to provide them the tools they need, the training they lack, and the resources they require to become active in their children’s lives.

If a father wants to be involved but can’t pay because he has no job, no one will hire him, or he has been in prison, then we will support programs that provide job training, drug counseling, and violence and anger management that encourage involvement.

We know an involved father is more likely to find or develop lawfully the means to provide financial and emotional support to his children.

That’s the real key, programs that keep fathers involved in their children’s lives. Those are the programs the Administration for Children and Families will be funding through Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood programs.

We can’t fund every program, every year, but we can begin to assemble a body of evidence-based best practices that will work when applied in the context of your individual communities.

We are creating a clearinghouse of research on promising programs that work, why they work and how their success can be transferred to other organizations.

Your successes will lead to more success and more funding. And, we need to seek a balance between enforcement and empowerment in our laws and policies. To succeed, we need both.

When weighed against the tremendous capital and human costs of incarceration, the costs of foster care and the cost of public assistance, these programs already make sense.

I mean, how can it be a bad idea to help a man who just got out of prison, who wants to help his family, who wants to reconnect safely and positively with his children?

How can it be a bad idea to provide him job training, real job training, drug abuse and violence counseling and access to health care?

Moreover, we need to reach out to young men in high-risk areas and work with them to educate them about the consequences of their actions. In so doing, we seek to reduce unwanted and unplanned pregnancies.

But when they do occur, because of early intervention strategies, these young men will understand their parental responsibilities from the start.

The research is clear: men who comprehend their responsibilities from the beginning are more active and remain active in their children’s lives.

They will know their child’s intellectual, emotional and financial well-being are their responsibility; not just the mother’s or the government’s responsibility.

Again, let me quote President Obama, “If we want our children to succeed in life, we need fathers to step up. We need fathers to understand that their work doesn’t end with conception—that what truly makes a man a father is the ability to raise a child and invest in that child.”

For the better part of two decades, you, the committed professionals in this room, have kept the conversation alive when others wanted to cast aspersions and blame.

You kept your focus on improving the lives of fathers who wanted to be more involved in their children’s lives but didn’t know how, or couldn’t because of some other barrier, be it self-inflicted or institutional.

You are the leaders of this still maturing philosophy and practice area. You’ve been framing the discussion regarding responsible fathers and healthy relationships. We are here to learn from you and to help you create the programming to achieve these very worthy goals.

We will be working with you to ensure the services you provide absent fathers are integrated and serve all of that family’s needs.

And though we wish we could fund every proposal from every organization every year, we do want to be in a position to create a clearinghouse of fresh, innovative ideas, of programs that are showing promise and how to apply them as well those that didn’t work and why.

It’s really that important.

In the end, it’s not about outcomes for ACF, it’s not about outcomes for your organizations, it’s about outcomes for kids and the fathers they desperately want and need in their lives.

The charge from President Obama is clear: “Too often when we talk about fatherhood and personal responsibility, we talk about it in political terms, in terms of left and right, conservative and liberal, instead of what’s right and what’s wrong. And when we do that, we’ve gotten off track. So, I think it’s time for a new conversation about fatherhood in this country.”

We need to move as many families as possible to self-sufficiency, through healthy relationships, which arguably would be in loving, nurturing two-parent households.

This is not to denigrate those single parents who work every day, love their children every day and are doing everything they can to make a good and better life for their children. Or, the nonresident parent who is actively involved in his child’s life.

Being connected to a larger system committed to the well-being of the entire family, even if not together as single unit, results in better outcomes for communities, better outcomes for families, and really, better outcomes for children.

You are to be thanked and lauded for your tireless efforts grappling with the science and reality of everyday life for fatherless children.

The future you, and our president, see is a future of fully integrated social services for families. We’ll get there by working together toward our common purpose: Stronger, economically independent families

It will take at least a village to ensure that this generation of children with absent fathers is the last that is expanding…

… That these children do not pass on the same sense of failure and defeat to their children.

…. That this is the generation that says yes to and demands positive relationships and declares that they want to be productive citizens.

You are the folks who are closest to these issues. You serve these families every day, you need to bring your experience and expertise to us and work with us to develop programming and funding mechanisms to reverse the trend.  We need your insights. We are here to learn.

As the economy continues to show some signs of improving, we need to ensure that low-income mothers and fathers get to participate in the recovery as well.

Subsidized wage employment opportunities and the ability to be gainfully employed build personal pride and self-esteem.

Good jobs, especially for a man returning to his community after serving a prison sentence allows that man to remain visible in the community where he can hold his head high and say, yes, I am providing for my family. I can do this. There’s no hiding, there’s no shame. There is hope.

You’re a very important group. We will work with you and together we will build the strongest most responsive network to build healthy marriages and partnerships, as well as responsible fathers.

A worthy parent of means is a better example than a father without a job, who has no hope and who, in the end lacks the self-esteem to look his children in the eye and nurture them toward loving self-reliance.

I want to close today with these words that Robert Kennedy wrote about what his father meant to him. I quote:

"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. Our awareness of this was an incalculable source of strength and because real love is something unselfish and involves sacrifice and giving, we could not help but profit from it. Beneath it all, he has tried to engender a social conscience. There were wrongs which needed attention. There were people who were poor and needed help. And we have a responsibility to them and to this country. Through no virtues and accomplishments of our own, we have been fortunate enough to be born in the United States under the most comfortable conditions. We, therefore, have a responsibility to others who are less well off."

I hope you have a wonderful conference.

Thank you and God bless you.


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