The negative effects of an absent father on a child were so striking in the late 1990s that I started my professional career to help end the problem. I was concerned that research showed children had an increased likelihood for negative emotional, physical, and educational outcomes when their fathers weren’t present. Knowing the indispensable role that fathers play in their children’s growth, I wanted all kids to have both parents involved in their lives. I joined the staff of the National Fatherhood Initiative, a nonprofit that prepares organizations and communities to proactively engage fathers in their children's lives. I provided technical assistance to fatherhood programs to help them recruit, retain, engage, and serve fathers.
Helping children stay connected to their fathers is something that I’m still passionate about over 20 years later. There’s a clear nexus between the goals of the national child support program and the responsible fatherhood field: the well-being of children. The strategies to bring about that well-being just differ a little. Someone who knew that very well was Halbert Sullivan, founder of the Fathers & Families Support Center in St. Louis. We lost a true advocate in April 2020 when Hal passed away unexpectedly. It hit me hard and caused me to think a lot about legacy. Hal was a man who unapologetically spoke about the importance of paying child support and men being the best fathers they could possibly be. He didn’t see an either/or choice; he knew that both roles are necessary. His legacy to me is that fathers can do remarkable things when we simply give them the opportunity.
Building a legacy of collaboration
What comes to mind when you think of the legacy of the child support enforcement program? Or that of the responsible fatherhood movement? Both have done great things, no doubt; but how much more could they accomplish together? There’s no reason we can’t explore this partnership in greater detail for all levels of family service delivery.
ACF’s Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Initiative provides $150 million per year in discretionary grants, contracts, research and evaluation, and other activities to strengthen families, promote responsible parenting, and improve family economic stability. There are also non-ACF funded fatherhood programs that work toward the same goals to promote parenting and improve the trajectory of families. What if child support and responsible fatherhood staffs cultivated clear and consistent partnerships for collaborative service delivery? It happens now in some state, local, and tribal programs. I believe that it’s something well within our collective reach to continue spreading to all programs. In the June issue of the Child Support Report, you'll read about such efforts to build these kinds of partnerships from the Good+Foundation.
Research shows that most fathers want to be involved in their children’s lives even when they don’t live with them. Let’s be intentional about creating partnerships between the child support and responsible fatherhood programs to build a legacy that reduces barriers and supports fathers being involved in their children’s lives.
James Murray, Senior Advisor to the Commissioner
This blog gives the commissioner a forum to communicate directly with child support professionals and other stakeholders about relevant topics. The Commissioner’s Voice is reprinted from the June 2021 Child Support Report newsletter.