By Anna Pilato, Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs
This month the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) is increasing its commitment of putting fathers and families at the center of our work. We are focused on true engagement across all programs and we strongly encourage and support fathers in becoming more involved in the lives of their children. On October 17, ACF participated in Pennsylvania’s 2018 Convening of Father, Child & Family Advocates and announced the release of an information memorandum detailing efforts to prioritize and enhance father engagement across ACF-funded programs. Clarence H. Carter, Director of the Office of Family Assistance, said, “ACF is an enterprise for human well-being. We are endeavoring to leverage all of our program assets in support of the vital role of fathers in our society.”
Despite our work over the last decade to promote and invest in fatherhood programs, more work is still needed to ensure that fathers, including non-custodial caregivers, are given a chance to be part of their children’s lives and contribute to their family’s social and economic well-being. This requires organizational and cultural changes to reduce systematic barriers for fathers. With this in mind, ACF calls upon family services agencies to ensure that fathers feel welcomed, supported, heard and have the chance to fully participate in programs and services.
We know from research that a father's positive involvement in the life of his child, both by direct engagement with the child and through positive engagement with the mother, can lead to better child outcomes in a number of areas. Frequent and positive father involvement builds a strong foundation for early learning and later success in school. Children and adolescents that have close and positive relationships with their fathers are less likely to engage in risky behaviors or substance and alcohol use. A father's financial support can help ensure his child resides in a safer neighborhood with the support and materials necessary to live a productive life. Research also suggests that involving fathers in child welfare may shorten the time a child spends in foster care and help keep children with their families.
ACF’s vision is an environment that supports the vital role of fathers by, rewarding positive paternal involvement in the lives of children and families, not one that deters or drives fathers away because of fear of sanction and intimidation. We encourage agencies to consider and review the messages they are sending to fathers, both directly and indirectly. We should ask:
- Are there values or attitudes present in the workforce that may inhibit identifying and working with fathers?
- Are there inter-programmatic barriers to father engagement, e.g., engaging in one program may create problems for fathers in another program?
- Do family service programs have a joint commitment and sense of purpose in seeking greater father engagement?
This memorandum, signed by the Administration for Children Youth and Families including the Children’s Bureau and the Family and Youth Services Bureau , the Office of Child Support Enforcement, the Office of Family Assistance , the Office of Child Care, and the Office of Head Start reaffirms the Trump Administration’s commitment to strengthening families. ACF programs are uniquely charged with strengthening and supporting families across the nation and father engagement is linked with this goal.
ACF strongly encourages all human services agencies including child welfare agencies, courts, offices of child support enforcement, offices of family assistance, offices of child care, Head Start, community action agencies, and family and youth services programs to work collaboratively to prioritize father engagement as a critical factor in strengthening families. ACF also encourages agencies to adopt approaches to enhance paternal involvement in all family support and child welfare related programs, and to partner with community and faith-based organizations to leverage resources to build sustainable programs in communities across our nation.