Common issues or challenges (also referred to as risk factors or barriers) are defined as conditions that hinder a consistent pattern of positive behavior and well-being. The types of challenges experienced by non-residential fathers in responsible fatherhood programs are often substantial. These challenges often contribute to lower levels of involvement with their children and lower quality co-parenting relationships with mothers. Some of these issues include:
- Challenges with having regular contact with their children.
- Lack of knowledge about how to navigate child support and court systems.
- Lack of stable living arrangements.
- Challenges with steady employment.
Non-residential fathers who are low-income face additional challenges related to poverty, such as if they lacking money to buy things for their kids, or are unable to pay child support.
The fact that serious financial and personal challenges are so widespread among lower-income, non-resident fathers should spur fatherhood-supporting initiatives to redouble their efforts to get struggling fathers back on their feet. Fatherhood programs should also remind dads their supportive presence matters just as much to their kids’ well-being as does their financial support. Here are some tips for programs to support non-residential fathers.
Tips & Best Practices
- Help program participants speak about their personal experiences and barriers. Fathers need to be heard and feel comfortable sharing their experiences without being judged. Caseworkers should be encouraged to have gradual and ongoing conversations with non-residential fathers about the issues they face, so they can develop targeted strategies to address barriers. Helping program participants talk about their personal experiences and barriers, acknowledging the need for behavioral changes, and developing new life skills are essential steps for non-residential fathers to move forward and for programs to be successful.
- Design programs that allow non-residential fathers to share their experiences with other non-residential fathers in a group setting. The opportunity to share experiences and reflect with other non-residential fathers can be valuable for dads to improve their economic situation and strengthen relationships with their children and co-parents. Practitioners working with dads in these situations advise programs to let fathers air their frustrations—such as with the court system, child support, or the children’s mother―which can help fathers see the situation more objectively.
- Fatherhood programs should consider assisting in fathers’ understanding and navigation of child support and family court systems. Talk with dads about the child support system. Help them think about how they might respond to certain issues or situations, including communication with mother of their children, establishing paternity, negotiating or changing a child support order, and how they would approach child-rearing. Have ongoing conversations so men can hear from peers and learn how to react to common challenges they may face in the court system. Help manage any disappointment a father may feel as a result of child support orders or visitation limits. Help staff keep fathers hopeful when they confront such disappointments.
- Explore resources fatherhood programs can use when working with low-income fathers and families. The Center for Family Policy and Practice provides various resources including Child Support Basics: Information for Financial Education and Asset Development Programs, a Primer for Financial Literacy and Fatherhood Service Providers, and Recommendations for Negotiating with the Child Support System.
The Engaging Fathers project was a collaboration between the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) and the Fathers and Families Center (FFC) in Indianapolis. The project was one of four funded by the National Quality Improvement Center on Non-Resident Fathers and the Child Welfare System (QIC NRF) to explore models for systemic collaboration between fatherhood programs and the child welfare system. FFC had a full-time staff person onsite at the Marion County DCS office to serve as the initial contact for non-resident fathers, help them navigate the child welfare and court systems, and provide training and support to DCS staff about father engagement.
Participating fathers attended a 20-week peer support group that used the Bringing Back the Dads curriculum developed by QIC NRF. The support groups provided information about parenting skills, the child welfare system, and other legal issues. Fathers were eligible for other FFC services, such as job assistance, GED preparation, relationship counseling, and transportation.
Our program would like to help non-residential fathers obtain stable housing. How can we do this?
Some programs maintain an emergency fund to help program participants deal with urgent housing or transportation situations. Other programs connect participants with local service agencies that provide rent assistance or emergency housing. The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness offers resources for addressing various housing barriers.
How can programs foster better relationship and communication skills in non-residential fathers?
Programs can help fathers understand how communication and listening skills can help establish an effective co-parenting network for their children. Some programs cultivate peer support networks of dads who communicate regularly and work together. Many of these men may find themselves in a social network that promotes things which aren’t healthy for them. Fatherhood programs can encourage a new direction by setting up a series of social events. Movies, games, and father/child outings are examples of social bonding activities arranged by some programs.
What are some ideas for helping non-residential fathers with employment challenges?
Many fatherhood programs either provide employment services in-house or work in partnership with experienced workforce development programs to help men assess and build their strengths, look for work, receive training, and prepare for employment. Depending on individual situations, programs may require education and training as prerequisites for a job search or focus on a “jobs first” approach that helps dads find temporary jobs to meet immediate financial obligations while they continue to build their skills for future opportunities. Some programs address financial literacy and help dads learn to manage child support, housing, and use money wisely.