Elevating the Voices of Black Fathers in Child Welfare
Not only are Black fathers more involved in their children’s lives, but they also want to be engaged despite the barriers our nation’s systems have built up against them. Yet, American society continues to perpetuate the myth of the “absent Black father,” leaving Black fathers silenced, ignored and often overlooked. While fatherhood may look different for different men, the unique experience of being a Black father in America must be acknowledged, and the best way to advocate for Black fathers is to engage them and recognize the positive contributions they make in ensuring their children grow, thrive and succeed. By doing this, we can better ensure their truth is told: Black fathers are present in their children’s lives. Period. ASCI spoke with one of the dedicated birth fathers we serve to gain insight on his experiences within the child welfare system and how we can best advocate for and support Black fathers.
*Note: Name has been withheld to protect his privacy.
ASCI: In what ways do you feel your voice may have been silenced or ignored within the child welfare process, as well as in general as a Black father in America?
BF: In every way possible. One, it was really ignored because opposed to looking at my situation when I had chastised [my son] and why I did it, they accused me of abusing him. I’m already a Black male, I have [dreadlocks], I’m over six feet, and I’m way over 260 pounds. So, [to them] I’m an aggressive, angry Black man that just abuses his son, as opposed to looking at it as a father disciplining their son. [My son] was 11 or 12, and he skipped school and went to his mom’s house. And then my role as father was stripped away once I entered the courtroom. Because now I can’t discipline my son. I can’t socialize with my son. I can’t talk to him. If something happens for school or he gets in trouble, there’s nothing I can do but sit and talk on the phone through a third party. So, my rights were revoked and stripped away. And it showed my son that, OK, my dad can do nothing to me. Because if he does, this is what’s going to happen.
ASCI: Have you gotten any rights back?
BF: Through the case and up to today, we have split custody. But the courts don’t see it that way, unfortunately, when it comes to Pennsylvania law. Prayerfully, if everything goes the way it’s supposed to, I’m supposed to get my son for the summer.
ASCI: How can we better support you as a Black father?
BF: It’s not about what you all can do for us, for men in my situation. It’s about the men like me coming to you all to come up with a way to help. Because the help is there, but your program could only do so much with the resources, with the funding that you can give. But what men and fathers that are in my situation [can do is] to come to you all to express myself and to be open-minded, and to not be afraid to talk about the situation, because the more that we stay quiet and don’t use the resources that we get to help out other men, I feel like we’re going to keep this cycle going. And you’ll probably be having this conversation later on in life with somebody else. So, I’ll say for me, it’s just me stepping up and talking about it and trying to figure out ways we can break this system, so more Black men don’t have to be in a situation that I was.
ASCI: Reflecting on your own personal experience being a Black father in America, especially in times like today, in the wake of George Floyd and everything that’s been going on in our country, how have you been able to remain positive? And what lessons have you been able to teach your son [children] to help them stay positive in a situation like today?
BF: It’s a good question. As I get older, my faith [helps], standing strong with my faith and my belief systems. Talking to my children. And not just talking. Sometimes as parents, we talk too much [when] you just got to listen. So, listening to understand where they’re coming from and see how they feel about the situation. And I tell them that there are still good people out there. Despite what we see [as far as] cops killing us and not just us, you know. I’ll just say there’s more Black-on-Black crime. There are cops killing Black folks, and I feel that all the activists are just geared to sentence a cop that kills a Black person. They want to stand up. But soon as a Black person kills a Black person, it’s like, OK. But you know, it’s hard at the same time. Because to be in society for me, I’m a new father all over again because I’m married. And me and my wife are about to have a child. So, to me, it’s like new because I’ve never been a married dad. So, this [situation] has been optimistic, and they have an open mind.
ASCI: Is there anything else that you would want the public to know about Black fatherhood or fatherhood in general? Are there any misconceptions about Black fathers that you’d like to make clear?
BF: Yes. There’s always going to be a perception. I’ll say that I was probably every type of father that can be. I’ve been a dad that was in the streets, you know, and sometimes we get the term of a person who does the wrong thing. In a sense, [people think], “He’s got the right state of mind, but his actions and his plan trying to get where he wants to be can be the wrong steps.” Sometimes we don’t have the right mentors or the right people. We don’t have the healthy people around us to take us where we need to be, as far as the dads that are still in the streets. Then you have the dad that’s just working, but really can’t have a good job because of his background, you know? And they’re out there working and finding jobs, a great person, but their background is hindering them. You got to stay humble. Sometimes getting out of jail, you know what you need to do. You know how to pursue the plan that you put in action. But getting rejection sometimes can cause you to turn around. And then you don’t want to go backwards because you have kids, you have a family that you need to support. So, it’s kind of hard. And we don’t look at their situations and those scenarios, as far as being a dad in America, being a Black dad.
Being a dad, especially being a dad and a father in America today and having a record, they say, “We’ll hire you.” But once they see that you have a record, it’s like they want to throw away your application forget about you. But to me, I feel like you’re not just throwing it away, it’s not just for me. The application that you’re throwing away in the trash can be that education that I can give to my daughter or to my son to support them, or that new pair of shoes that they wanted because they have straight As. But you can’t get it because you can’t afford it. So I feel that, being a Black dad in America today is a good thing, but at the same time, it can be scary. Because if you allow too much TV to influence you, too much of the wrong people, family members, it can cause you to even have [poor] mental health. If your mental health is not right—being a Black dad in America—it’s either going to tear you down or it’s going to build you up.