The ongoing work of FFHC reflects the challenges facing low-income African-American fathers – and the potential to improve outcomes. Consider, for example, that in seven Chicago communities served by FFHC, the unemployment rate has typically been more than twice the national average (U.S. Census data, 2010). The figures on education, housing and child poverty in these communities are similarly striking (insert citation). Meanwhile, data also shows the potential positive impact of fathers. Research conveys the impact of fathers on a child’s poverty and education levels as follows: Federal data assert that a child is less likely to be poor if a father is present and more likely to succeed in school if a father is involved. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011; U.S. Department of Education, 2001).
FFHC builds on work in the fatherhood field stemming back to the 1990’s and includes the Responsible Fatherhood movement. In recent years, that movement has increasingly focused on the development of healthy father-child relationships. In 2012, President Obama emphasized the importance of fathers in Promoting Responsible Fatherhood, a White House report that encouraged “all fathers to take responsibility for their children’s intellectual, emotional, and financial well-being.”(page number)
The context of fatherhood issues suggests the urgency and complexity of what is at stake. “The real problem is not that these men don’t want to be fathers,” said Kathryn Edin and Timothy Nelson at Harvard University. “What’s missing is an ability to overcome fragile and fractious relationships with their children’s mothers, combined with a lack of economic resources and other challenges such as substance abuse and limited access to stable housing.” (Edin and Nelson, 2013).
For FFHC, it is critical to look first at the assets of non-custodial, African-American fathers and how they can make a positive difference in the lives of their children and families. At its core, the work of FFHC is linked to how it views fathers and the changes that must occur, particularly as these changes relate to organizations that serve mothers and children. It is important to note that while the economic viability of fathers is vital, it is not the only measure of a father’s worth. The organization’s approach also stresses that the low-income, non-custodial fathers it works with have important assets – including their commitment to being emotionally connected to and financially responsible for their children. These fathers are also committed to using their assets for the well-being of their children, becoming co-parents with the mother of their children, and becoming leaders in their communities.
For nearly two decades, community-based asset building has become a significant philosophy of community development. John Kretzmann and John L. McKnight developed the philosophy of using local assets as the primary building blocks of a sustainable community at Northwestern University. This approach has influenced a wide range of organizations and communities over the years.
McKnight and Kretzmann wrote, “Every single person has capabilities, abilities, and gifts. Living a good life depends on whether those capabilities can be used, abilities expressed, and gifts given. If they are, the person will be valued, feel powerful and well-connected to the people around them. And the community around the person will be more powerful because of the contribution the person is making.” (year of quote)
FFHC’s “Connect-The-Dots” Theory and Practice (CTD) is intimately related to the idea that leveraging community assets is fundamental to creating change. This strategy’s principles emphasize collaboration between service providers and promote connection among the target population, human service institutions, and evidence-based practices. Other key principles of Connect-the-Dots are developing and disseminating strategic resources, as well as reducing inefficiencies with a continuous improvement objective.
FFHC’s vision of how community-based service providers can function in concert is also essential to its work. While one-on-one case management of this population is critical, it is not the only effective strategy for serving low-income, non-custodial fathers. FFHC prides itself in bringing together service providers who share their experiences and collaborate on how to improve services to this population.
FFHC works to coordinate and enhance services for participating fathers and provides a range of disciplines that reinforce these services. Services provided by the organization’s partners include self-sufficiency support such as (example), that focus on education and employment; family strengthening support such as (example), that emphasize parenting skills; and a variety of other customized support services, such as child support, health, and re-entry services. Meanwhile, FFHC’s disciplines complement these services and address specific issues related to case management, legal services, community mobilization, and evaluation.
FFHC embraces an asset-based model. By emphasizing this model, the organization believes that non-custodial, African American fathers will thrive and have a positive impact on their children. FFHC posits that if an organization supports a father’s development, a stronger opportunity to increase his sense of self will be created, and the possibilities before him will be endless. The fathers with whom FFHC work possess many assets, including the capacity to be leaders. The organization believes that every father can realize significant improvements in these assets, and become contributors to their children and families as well as leaders in their communities.
The assets identified among the low-income, non-custodial fathers with whom FFHC work include: the willingness to be a father; the willingness to work (some men we work with also have degrees and training); and the willingness to nurture their children and work collaboratively with the mothers of their children. Daily, FFHC and its partners work with men who fit this profile. Through the organization’s Peer-to-Peer Program, members find empowerment as they tap into these assets. This program helps fathers provide stronger support for their children and work cooperatively with their children’s mother.
In FFHC’s view, when non-custodial fathers nurture and care for their children and act in other supportive roles, they must espouse those actions as essential to their role. While this may seem obvious, one of the innovations that FFHC offers is a framework for realizing this strategy – an approach that focuses on the benefits of father presence and not just problems related to father absence.
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