Much of it comes in words and money.
Let’s first look at the words.
Governor Ted Strickland in 2007 reactivated the neglected Ohio Commission on Fatherhood. The commission recommends renaming each county’s Child Support Enforcement Agency the “Child Support Services Agency” and adopting policies to distinguish between deadbeats on the six o’clock news who refuse to pay and fathers who can’t.
Another subtle change eliminates all wording that discriminates against fathers. For instance, one social service agency discriminated against fathers by providing Registered Nurse visits to all new and teen “mothers” versus all new and teen “parents.”
You may think this silly, but the state wants fathers to know they are expected to get involved in the lives of their children and not just financially.
President –elect Barack Obama stressed responsible fatherhood during the election campaign. And, in 2006, he and fellow Senator Evan Bayh introduced the Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act to encourage marriage by eliminating the marriage penalty in the tax code and remove employment barriers for fathers willing to support their children.
The societal cost of irresponsible fatherhood is staggering. Studies have shown boys who grow up with little or no contact with their fathers are more likely to be involved in crime, use drugs and alcohol, have emotional disorders and drop out of school. Girls are more likely to become pregnant as teens.
More than 26 million children live in single-parent homes in our country and 9.6 million have not had contact with their father in the last year, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative. The federal government spends more than $99.8 billion annually for child support enforcement and poverty issues dealing with father-absent homes.
“If there were 9.6 million kids being affected by anything else, it would be front page news,” said David Justus, director of Northcoast Fatherhood Initiative, a group providing services for fathers in Northwest Ohio.
The non-profit opened its doors in October at the East Toledo Family Center. It is funded by a $225,000 grant from Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Justus said the group’s mission is to strengthen family relationships, help with employment needs and increase child support compliance.
The help starts at birth with a “Daddy Pack” given to fathers who attend the birth of their child. The “pack” addresses how to be a good dad and includes advice on newborn issues such as shaken baby syndrome.
Other programs include a Dad’s Club which provides activities for fathers and their children along with advice on how to be a good dad. Resources are also available for job training and placement.
Some fathers come just to share parenting ideas with other dads.
Justus says the three biggest issue facing single fathers are:
• Most fathers don’t have the skills or education to secure a job that pays enough to pay child support according to state guidelines;
• There is no practical course of action to take if a mother deters visitation;
• Many fathers released from prison can not get a valid driver’s license because they are behind in child support, hence job training and employment opportunities are curtailed. As child support is not suspended while fathers are in prison, many find themselves back in jail for failure to pay child support before they can earn enough money to do so.
Fathers can call David Justus at 419-917-9204 or go to www.northcoastfathers.org
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