As a father and the commissioner of the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, I was invigorated by two fatherhood events during a week in June. First, I attended an International Fatherhood Conference in Richmond, Virginia, with Clarence Carter, director of ACF’s Office of Family Assistance. We talked about where we’ve been and where we need to go in human services to help fathers and families become self-sufficient. Then we traveled on to Nashville, Tennessee, for ACF’s first-ever national fatherhood summit, Fanning the Fatherhood FIRE, to help support and expand fatherhood efforts across the country. This summit helped energize the human services field nationwide. In the opening plenary, James Murray represented OCSE on an ACF cross-program panel, discussing the programs and initiatives directed at fathers. James tells more in his article on page 2 of the July 2019 Child Support Report newsletter.
We know that fathers play a critical role in their children’s lives, but many feel disconnected from their children. In my travels, I’ve heard from countless fathers about how they pay their monthly child support obligations but don’t get to see their child. Research indicates that fathers who are able to spend time with their child will pay more child support, and pay it more consistently, than fathers without regular access to their children. We mentioned at the summit that parenting time agreements are something that summit participants could ask their local legislators to consider as possible solutions for the fathers and families that they serve. It was a novel idea for some. It’s just one of the tools, though, that we can use to help men be more involved in their children’s lives through the child support program.
Children who have an involved father are often happier and healthier, even when the father doesn’t live with them. So ACF and the Ad Council launched an ad campaign during the fatherhood summit to highlight the importance of small moments shared between dads and their children. The campaign, Dance Like a Dad, encourages dads to "bust a move" for the most important audience of all – their kids. Because when men spend time with their children, even if it’s just to #DanceLikeADad, that moment can have a lasting impact.
The goal of the child support program is to make sure that children have emotional and financial support from both parents, even when they live apart. We can do that more effectively when we partner with other programs to help fathers be present. Events like the ones I attended help us broaden the discussions on fatherhood, develop new partnerships, and share the message that the child support program is here to help.