ASCI Helps Fathers Keep the F.A.I.T.H.
We hear a lot about gender bias in family court when deciding custody and how there is a bias in favor of mothers. It seems that courts are sending a message on the degree that fathers are essential in the raising, health, and well-being of children. The way visitation is often set up presents barriers for fathers to take active roles in parenting. Child welfare is no different.
Why are mothers favored over fathers? When exploring placement options —in most scenarios, fathers are less relied upon and engaged by the child welfare system.
Gender bias against fathers is often the result of the assumptions the child welfare system makes against fathers; that they leave their children behind, they are less connected to their children, they lack interest in their children, they instill harsh disciplinarians, etc. But this bias, whether implicit or intentional, can further traumatize children by keeping fathers at a distance or out of sight. Essentially, the system is not addressing 50% of a child’s family.
According to a report from Casey Family Programs, “having an involved father:
- Lets a child know that he/she is loved;
- Helps a child learn important life skills;
- Provides a child with greater financial resources;
- Lowers a child’s chances for early sexual activity;
- Provides a child with a positive male role model;
- Lowers a child’s chances for school failure;
- Provides a child with emotional support;
- Lowers a child’s chances for juvenile delinquency;
- Enhances a child’s self-esteem;
- Lowers a child’s chances for adult criminality;
- Enhances a child’s intellectual development;
- Provides a child with a sense of physical and emotional security;
- Provides a child with guidance and discipline;
- Facilitates a child’s moral development;
- Gives a child someone to play with;
- Promotes a healthy gender identity in a child;
- Provides a child with someone to talk to when he/she has questions; and
- Provides a child with an alternative perspective on life.”
As it is quite obvious what valuing and engaging fathers—at the same level as mothers—can do for children in out-of-home care, the system needs more programs that uplift dads, involve them in every step of casework and support their relationships with their kids.
To ensure meaningful engagement and better connect with the many loving fathers ASCI serves as they work to reunify with their children, the agency created the FAITH (Fathers Actively Initiating the Hope) program! Since its beginnings on July 1, 2021, there have been a total of 130 participants. The goal of the FAITH program is to establish a standard of manhood that will protect, provide, and teach their children while creating a legacy of love, learning and prosperity.
Phillip Fulmore, Assistant Director of Family and Children Engagement, shares that in FAITH, fathers cover topics such as balancing emotions, creating a norm between home and work life, discussing barriers for men in family court, dealing with mothers who live outside of the home, financial planning and self-care and other important topics for fathers.
“I think society sees fathers involved in the child welfare system as already being a problem before truly understanding why they’re in the system in the first place,” offers dad and FAITH participant Vince (name changed to maintain confidentiality). “They view fathers as not wanting to be involved, doing things they shouldn’t. But I believe most fathers in the child welfare system truly want to be better and do better to make a meaningful life for themselves and their children.”
“I joined the FAITH program to gain advice on how to become a better father,” he continues. “I am able to have wholesome and helpful conversations with like-minded men who also want to be the best fathers they can be.”
The FAITH program serves fathers, stepfathers, godfathers, grandfathers and fictive fathers who are serious about establishing healthy relationships with their children or those to whom they have been given the privilege to be a “father” and/or “dad.” The program focuses on fatherhood skills; child development; finances; balancing life and family; diversity, equity and inclusion; and fathers as leaders. More specifically, fathers in FAITH are challenged to improve their skills around building healthy relationships, setting boundaries, creating parent-child rituals, understanding parent-child roles and more.
“I, as well as the other FAITH members, are extremely active in their children’s lives and couldn’t imagine not being with them,” Vince explains. “I don’t think it’s fair that America’s view of Black fathers doesn’t do the good ones any justice. There are good dads out there. The system focuses on the ‘deadbeat dad’ stigmas but doesn’t give us good fathers a chance. I do everything in my will to protect my wife and my son. The system doesn’t do fathers justice.”
While facilitating group sessions, Phillip notes that he has seen fathers become more comfortable with other men in the group which allows for honest communication amongst the members.
Despite what they experience in the system, FAITH participants “uplift one another,” Vince says, as they discuss one another’s experiences in order to offer support. “You never know what the next person is going through until they speak about it; you’d never think about it unless you’re going through it yourself,” he suggests. “The FAITH program is such a benefit for all dads to be a part of. We’re able to open up and express concerns about fatherhood, giving tips and examples to one another and actually being able to see if the advice works.”
Through FAITH, Vince is also able to find support as a Black father, a daunting circumstance amid systemic racism. “I have to prepare for the obstacles and challenges of being an African American dad with a Black son,” he says. “I have to prepare myself and my son for what’s to come while being Black in America. The FAITH program continues to help me feel secure in who I am and who my son is.”
Vince shares with ASCI that he and his only child have always had a strong bond, spending quality time together and doing things he wishes he could have experienced with his own dad. “I’m able to experience new things with him,” he says. “The way I redirect my son is helpful and not harmful. He’s the happiest boy in the world, and I’m honored to be his father. The FAITH program has helped me maintain the standard I set for myself, as well as setting and staying on the path set for my family.