THE FATHER FACTOR:

A Critical Link in Building Family Prosperity Reimagining Father Engagement for the 21st Century Family

It takes a village to raise a child is an African proverb expressing the truth that an entire community of people must interact with children for them to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, guardians, and communities all want happier and healthier children. As a society, we must support and recognize the importance of each individual who impacts the lives of our children, most importantly mothers and fathers.

Yet fathers have been consistently drawing the short stick in this regard. While the important role of fathers in society has been increasingly documented in recent research and by experts working with families, fathers do not receive the attention or support they need from a broader range of policymakers, practitioners and funders.

In fall 2018, Ascend at the Aspen Institute and the GOOD+ Foundation convened 117 fathers, researchers, thought leaders, policymakers, and practitioners. Among the participants were individuals from the US Department of Health and Human Services, Duke University, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, University of Pennsylvania, Office of Colorado Governor Jared Polis, Georgetown University, the Office of US Senator Rob Portman, Administration for Children’s Services, Institute for Family Studies, the Urban Institute, The Kresge Foundation, Pennsylvania’s The Strong Families Commission, Inc., Northwestern University and Princeton University.

THE FATHER FACTOR: A Critical Link in Building Family Prosperity event looked at important issues revolved around fathers:

  • What situations and circumstances prevent fathers from being fully engaged in the lives of their children?
  • What are the hallmarks of engaging fathers effectively?
  • How should we think about reimagining public systems and services to work for 21st-century families?

The role of fathers and how we view and value them in America is in metamorphosis; over the past decades, fathers have been slighted or ignored by programs and policies, with devastating impacts on families. We must redefine our public and private systems and services to meet the needs of the evolved 21st-century family.

The current environment that often positions fathers as secondary, nonessential actors in children’s overall wellbeing exists within our society, our court and legal systems and health and human services system.  This is a critical issue, the 21st century families look nothing like the traditional family that once consisted of mother, father and children.

According to the 2019 Kids Count Data Book, there are over 24 million single-parent families nationwide. In Pennsylvania alone, there are 881,000 single-parent families, that’s 35% of Commonwealth families, a staggering number of children who likely do not have the benefit of both parents. This especially holds true for noncustodial dads of divorced or separated families.

Ascend and the GOOD+ Foundation share a commitment to the prosperity and wellbeing of children and their parents, and this is the exact reason Dr. Joel Myers founded Dads’ Resource Center, understanding the vital need to invest in fathers. While DRC is a father-serving organization, our services have a direct impact on the wellbeing of children and families. It is proven time and again that the more we invest in fathers the greater the impact we see on children and families as a whole.

The Aspen Institute and the GOOD+ Foundation  published a report that summarizes critical themes and practical examples that surfaced at the convening to increase father engagement for the well-being of children, families, and communities. The report is organized into five sections:

  • Family Narratives: Mothers, Fathers, and Perceptions of Family
  • Building a Positive Policy Environment
  • Fatherhood in the Earliest Years
  • Breadwinners and Caregivers
  • Building Opportunity for Re-entering Dads

Focusing on father inclusion and engagement is a focus on families. Active fathers do help build stronger, more resilient families, which are the backbone of thriving communities and a strong country.

As Ascend, GOOD+, Dads’ Resource Center and other organizations working on behalf of children and families endeavor to elevate father supportive innovation in programs and policies, it is imperative to reshape public policy and the legal, public and community systems to work for 21st-century families.