Ed. Note: This ACF Success Story originally appeared on the Family and Youth Services Bureau website. Read the original post here.
At 18, A.J. owed a whopping $30,000 in child support. Referred to FatherWorks, a program for teen dads at The Village for Families and Children in Hartford, CT. A.J. wasn’t looking to be a better father—or really to be a parent at all. He was looking for a job. He needed to pay off his bills and stay out of jail.
For A.J., not interacting with or supporting his children seemed normal. His own dad had walked out when he was two years old. But as A.J. worked on his GED, his self-esteem grew and he realized he wasn’t to blame for his father’s lack of involvement.
“The light bulb went off that, ‘You know, it doesn’t have to be that way for my child,’” says Vinny Hollister, the program director of FatherWorks, which is funded by a grant from the Family and Youth Services Bureau’s Personal Responsibility Education Innovative Strategies Program, (PREIS). The PREIS Program funds and evaluates programs that are approaching teen pregnancy prevention in innovative ways.
Hollister says FatherWorks tries to instill in young men like A.J. a deep sense of empathy for their children and their children’s mothers.
“It made a difference for him, being able to see what it was like for his 16 year old partner to be pregnant, in high school, dealing with stigma, and dropping out,” Hollister says. “Whereas, he was able to walk away and she couldn’t.”
Eventually, A.J. got a fulltime job at Hartford Hospital, which allowed him to make child support payments and start visitation with his child once during the week and on weekends. He even learned how to change diapers, Hollister says.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families