Fathers who live apart from their children often come to fatherhood programs with deep feelings of frustration, shame, and hopelessness. Many have found themselves becoming the absent dad they swore they would never be. Many of the men who participate in fatherhood programs either do not live with their children and/or do not have legal claims to their kids. Many dads also face issues around a lack of steady employment, stable housing, and a good relationship with the co-parent and often times with child support services.
Fatherhood programs can be a source of new hope as these fathers begin to find their way back to their children. The Responsible Fatherhood Toolkit has information, tips, program examples, and additional resources to help fatherhood programs in providing services, and new hope, to fathers. The Working with Non-Residential Fathers section has resources to help support these dads. A first step is beginning to understand some of challenges they face.
Legal & Child Support Issues
Young, low-income fathers who are unmarried often find themselves avoiding the establishment of paternity. Often this stems from a distrust of the system and the enforcement of child support payment. With this view, some fathers often feel as though they are constantly at odds and are sometimes unable to see the need of verifying paternity. This frequently leaves the fathers without any legal rights to children. This creates a cycle of frustration that is rarely addressed outside of fatherhood programs.
The establishment of paternity plays a central role in non-residential fathers’ life, as it validates his role and efforts within his children’s life. It can also lead to the father establishing a formal agreement with the co-parent so that their children can reap the full legal benefit.
Many non-residential dads have themselves gone through life without their father or a less than positive father figure and understand the negative impact it can have on their children if they become that absent father. However, a rocky relationship with their child’s mother, especially if they are no longer in a romantic relationship, can keep a father disconnected from his children. Another key problem faced by non-residential fathers, especially younger fathers, is trouble with housing stability. This can stem from a host of reasons, but chief among them is the lack of financial stability, often attributed to a lack of gainful employment.
The Role of Fatherhood Programs
Given the challenges that may be facing fathers as they enter a fatherhood program, a key role for fatherhood practitioners can be to facilitate constructive conversations with non-residential fathers to vent their frustrations and hardships. Allowing them to discuss issues like the child support system and relationships with co-parents is a key benefit to fathers able to hear different points of view. This can be an opportune time to get the fathers to view their situation more objectively. Although many fatherhood practitioners are limited in their ability to provide housing for these men, it is a key area where programs can form partnerships with agencies that provide housing solutions or rent assistance programs. It is also possible for the practitioners to provide employment services in-house or join forces with experienced workforce development programs.
Fatherhood programs can play a key role in connecting fathers with their local family court system and child support agency and start building a trusting relationship. Much of the frustrations felt by non-residential fathers stems from a distrust of the system and the feeling that the courts and child support are inherently against them. Fatherhood programs can help fathers complete necessary forms, obtain employment, and meet their child support obligations. This can increases the dads’ willingness to communicate with child support and debunk any myths about the child support system.
Fatherhood programs play a key role in supporting fathers in addressing the challenges they face on the way to becoming the best parents that they can be. Programs can be a key sounding board and connection to resources. Here are more resources that fatherhood programs can use to help support them in providing critical support to fathers in their programs.
- Responsible Fatherhood Toolkit
- ACF Office of Child Support Enforcement Handbook
- US Interagency Agency Council on Homelessness: Rapid Rehousing
- ACF Programs and Services for Homelessness
National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse