Welfare, Fathers and Those Persistent Myths

Confronting the common belief that public assistance undermines the family structure, new federal efforts are designed to engage fathers and dispel myths.

Struggling to keep a man in the home, from the movie "Claudine" (20th Century Fox)

Joseph T. Jones, the president and founder of the Center for Urban Families, a Baltimore-based organization that provides a range of supports for low-income fathers, adds that this singular focus on child support instantly creates a wedge between parents.

“It’s not in the father’s natural best interest to be with the mother when she goes to the welfare office,” he told The Root, explaining that caseworkers order child-support payments to reabsorb some of the costs of welfare benefits. “And if the parents are no longer romantically involved, the mother is now the gatekeeper to whether or not the father can have a relationship with the child. The system enforces the collection side of child support, but [not] access and visitation.”

Change Comes to Policy?

Jones is encouraged, however, by recent efforts to challenge this status quo. Among the legislative proposals in President Obama’s 2012 budget is $570 million for states to include access and visitation in child-support agreements. Not only would this ensure that children have relationships with both parents, but it could also lead to more regular child-support payments, since studies show that fathers are more likely to meet financial obligations when they spend time with their kids.

“That is huge in terms of public policy,” said Jones. “There’s a long way to go before that is made law, but for this administration to propose it, and to have debate about how to move it forward, is the first time that I can ever recall it happening in a substantive way.”

Jones and Warren both served on the president’s Task Force for Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families. The advisory panel has also informed initiatives such as Fathering Reentry Courts, to reconnect ex-offenders with their families, and the newly announced Year of Strong Fathers, Strong Families campaign, which partners with various organizations to sponsor free and discounted father-child outings.

As for HUD’s work around fatherhood, Deputy Secretary Sims maintains that the agency’s commitment goes beyond the upcoming events this weekend. At the local level, housing authorities in cities including New York City, Milwaukee and Memphis, Tenn., have begun to regularly offer services for dads that include job training, educational support, help with understanding their rights within the family-court system and parent-infant classes.

“More and more, we’re seeing local housing authorities understand the importance of a united family,” said Sims. “We want the federal government to be part of the solution.”

Cynthia Gordy is The Root’s Washington reporter.

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