Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Fathers and Families Center: A Program Designed to Rescue Inner City Fathers and Families

As a society, we continue to wrestle with the problems created by weak inner city education systems and a judicial system intent on trying to incarcerate as many of its problems as possible without any real solutions. The fallout is multiple generations of children being raised without the benefit of fathers to participate in the nurturing of these children and crime rates that do not seem to diminish.  Even though many mothers do an admirable job of raising their children, the research is clear that the presence of a father in the home has a positive impact on the overall well-being of children and their life’s positive outcomes.

In 2000, the Social Policy Action Network offered a guide to help reintroduce fathers into their communities and as anchors to the family. The guide was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which recommended six steps for policymakers to take that would help restore missing fathers to their families and communities (Reich, Sylvester 2000). Within that document they put forth to policymakers the fundamental needs that communities would require for this restoration of fathers to take place in their communities. They recommended the following based on their research:

1) Teach Men to be Good Parents
2) Help Fathers Improve Relationships With Their Mothers
3) Remove Barriers to Work for Low-Income Fathers
4) Use Federal Funds to Fund Fathers’ Programs
5) Make The child Support System Work For Families
6) Campaign to Reinforce the Message That “Fathers Matter”

While this document was designed as a blueprint for future programs based on research and recommendations of practitioners, it was not an answer in and of itself because, it was typical to most documents of this type, really short on practical implementation strategies.  The problem with blueprints and recommendations is; how do you make it come to fruition in the real world?  Many organizations are adept at “defining” the problem, but when it comes to actualizing a plan they have little or no experience. Fortunately, in this instance there was already a program in business at the time quietly getting real results in the real world. Not only does this program impact the lives of children and families, it also impacts crime rates in the affected communities. That program is Fathers and Families Center in Indianapolis, Indiana under the leadership of President and CEO, Dr. Wallace Mclaughlin.

The program has been in operation for twenty years and served over seven thousand participants. It has evolved into a model that can and should be emulated across the country based on current workforce development models; social impact strategies; and crime prevention systems. The program targets the most vulnerable of populations which is 90% African-American; 80% are male with 78% younger than 35 years of age; with the majority ranging in age from 18-29. Equally important in defining the population, they bring the following kinds of issues to the table:

Fathers and Families Center Indianapolis

The Fathers and Families Center in Indianapolis is the most comprehensive program in the country for restoring fathers to their rightful position in the community as an active participant in their children’s lives and responsible citizenship.  The evidence is clear that without the presence of a father in the home all kinds of adverse events can take place and most of them are to the children. The U.S. Census Bureau, in 2003 stated that children in the “father-absent” home are five times more likely to be poor. As a matter of fact, in that year 7.8 percent of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to 38.4 percent female-householder families and the numbers have only gotten worse (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003). Other research shows that students living in a father-absent home are twice as likely to repeat a grade in school and fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school. By the same token, according to Broadhurst and Sedlak in 1996, living in a single parent home increased a child’s chance of abuse and neglect:

• 77% greater risk of being physically abused
• 87% greater risk of being harmed by physical neglect
• 165% greater risk of experiencing notable physical neglect
• 74% greater risk of suffering emotional neglect
• 80% greater risk of suffering serious injury

Of course, just having a father present does not guarantee that the cycle of poverty and neglect can be broken. In order for the cycle to change, fathers must be equipped with skills that will translate into life events that will bring about positive decisions and actions by the father. Fathers and Families Center provides the foundations for these skills and decision-making abilities through a comprehensive training program designed to offer “choices” to participants. These “choices” include choices about education, employment, and life skills to be better fathers and spouses. Coupled with, the opportunity to redirect their lives away from crime if it has been impacted in that fashion.

Fatherhood Development Workshop

Initially, we begin coaching our participants by enrolling them in our Fatherhood Development Workshop. This is a four week long training that is comprehensive in nature. It begins with Manhood Development sessions.  Our society as a whole is very lacking in this kind of training. Since many of our participants have not had fathers who were role models, they do not have a reference point to use for being a good father. Our program provides that to them. In these sessions they discuss how a man should act and respond to things that they face on a daily basis in society.  In addition, they learn parenting skills and child development so they can better understand their children. What does it take to build a relationship with a child? How do I improve my relationship with my child? These and other questions are answered and discussed in class.

In some cases, the participants are facing child support issues and do not understand how to navigate the system to satisfy the legal components as well as their moral obligations. We provide them training and assistance on how to do the right things regarding child support when a relationship with a birth-mother might be less than amicable. Again, this is training on how to be a good father and a responsible father. Co-parenting and respecting the child’s mother is also a part of this training. How to build healthy relationships are taught to participants so that long term changes can be made by participants that will result in good homes for their children.

Another aspect of our training in the Fatherhood Development Workshop is Anger Management. Due to the anxiety that participants face regarding unemployment and in many cases consequences for previous criminal activities they may have anger issues. We offer them advice on how to deal with situations that come up and to reduce their anxiety. Many times this is helped when we are able to assist them in garnering employment. Participants are expected to show responsibility and be on time and dress appropriately as if they were seeking employment.  We even go so far as to provide appropriate clothing for job interviews and in many cases teach them how to tie a tie for the first time.  Participants participate in mock interviews and learn how to develop a personal resume for employment that is factual and without gaps that might be present due to incarceration or unemployment.

They are also taught to participate in social and cultural activities. Families are brought in for family night and children get to have activities with their father. Issues of drug use and addiction are addressed and referrals made when appropriate as well as referrals to social agencies and counseling, individual and family. Computer labs are available for job hunting and job fairs to assist with the job hunting process.

Workforce Development

The Workforce Development Department of Fathers and Families is active from the very beginning of the participants’ enrollment. The Fatherhood Development Workshop is the first phase of workforce development. During that training participants are trained job seeking skills and employment preparation as well as how to retain a job. After the initial Fatherhood Workshop training, participants come to Job Club weekly to meet with potential employers and in many cases have interviews with employers. During these sessions employers share with attendees what their expectations are and interview prospective applicants from our participant pool. In addition, we work with other employers who contact us with employment needs and contact participants with job opportunities that become available. We also provide transportation assistance through Federal grants to assist participants getting to their jobs and attending the Fatherhood Workshop. Additional grant monies are used as incentives for continued participation and completion.

Equally important, we are able to provide some employers with supplemental wage assistance through Transitional Subsidized Employment (TSE) for employing past criminal offenders. They can get paid up to four months wages for an employee who has been incarcerated if they employ them full time. The hope is that they will find a good employee and keep them after the four months.

College and Career Development and Transitions

Each participant is tested to determine his current academic achievement level upon entering the program.  While some Fatherhood programs across the country address the basics, the Fathers and Families Center in Indianapolis is a complete program of case management all the way through to self-actualized citizen. We use the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE) which is the test used by the Indiana State Workforce Development to determine eligibility for training and certification assistance through their programs.  Moreover, we look at their previous academic attainment and ascertain where they fall as far as their need for additional training or education to obtain employment.  Similarly, we refer them to our in-house workforce development department to see if we can get them placed in a job as soon as possible.

The College and Career Program at Fathers and Families Center is a true workforce development “extension” program. It is a program that attempts to move participants to employment which may include workforce training, certification or college. Workforce development is an economic development approach that attempts to promote prosperity by focusing on our people rather than businesses. With that in mind, Fathers and Families has designed this part of our program to meet participants needs as they transition from either high school graduation, or our High School Equivalency (HSE) class to additional work training and college. It is essentially an inner-city human resources strategy that is focused on removing long-term employment barriers. It is a holistic approach considering participants' many barriers and their overall life needs. The College and Career Program at Fathers and Families is focused on employment and improvement of quality of life and self-sufficiency.

We have a strong network of ties with WorkOne Indiana and local colleges to link participants to training, certifications, and college completion to help reach their goals of self-sufficiency.   Additionally, we take an all-inclusive approach to the problems faced by participants. We continue to teach soft skills for employment acquisition as well as preparation skills for college entrance exams and successful completion of training and certification programs.

Traditional workforce development has been problem-focused. Economic development practitioners evaluated neighborhoods, cities, or states on the basis of perceived weaknesses in human resource capacity. Economic developers have used workforce development as a way to increase equity among inhabitants of a region. Inner-city residents may not have access to equal education opportunities, and workforce development programs such as the Fathers and Families College and Career Program can increase their skill level so they can compete for high-paying jobs. Fathers and Families fills a void in the inner-city of Indianapolis that few can claim.

As our participants complete their High School Equivalency program with us, or provide a previous high school graduation record, we then attempt to move them into our College Readiness Class that is held in cooperation with Ivy Tech College. The goal of this class is to assist our participants in mastering soft skills for college and success on the Accuplacer Test, which a high enough score will allow them to skip non-credit classes as they enter college as freshmen. This class is for college credit and is required for all incoming freshmen at Ivy Tech College.

In addition, at this juncture, these participants are counseled by Fathers and Families staff and WorkOne staff, through a “Life Coach,” to determine the best course of action for each participant as far as potential training and certification that can be used in the interim to seek gainful employment while pursuing additional college level training. The focus remains throughout to remove “barriers” to employment and the addition of hard skills that translate to employability.

During our extensive evaluation processes and case management, we sometimes determine that we would be doing a disservice to a participant to try and keep them in a HSE prep class or other pure educationally focused program. Weekly staffings take place in to make sure none of the participants are falling through the cracks and that they are progressing on the Agency Continuum. Due to academic deficiencies that are either insurmountable or will take years to overcome we must refocus a participant on acquiring a marketable job skill through a training or certification program. This is the program that we will refer participants to for that to be accomplished. We help participants access resources through WorkOne so that the participant can acquire job skills.

There are some mitigating factors that we have to work through to serve our participants and we have systems in place to deal with those. If we determine that a participant has TABE scores that are too low to be raised high enough to pass the HSE, even after spending time in Instruction Targeted for TABE Success (ITTS), we need to develop an alternative plan for the participant. ITTS is a computer software program designed to develop a learning plan for participants based on current learning levels. If they are really low we may need to refer them to Voc-Rehab for evaluation to see if we can get them employed through them or to another community organization such as Goodwill who serves the handicapped.

In some cases, they will not be so low that they need those services but they will need to raise their TABE scores to qualify for some training programs or certifications through WorkOne. When that is the case, we will assign them to the ITTS lab and we will monitor and assist them to raise their TABE scores so they can qualify for these programs.

How Do Know When We Have Reached Our Goal?

The ultimate goal of all programing at the Fathers and Families Center is to move participants along a continuum from Directed Learning to Indirect/Self-Directed Learning. Initially, we must take each participant by the hand and direct their every move and basically spoon feed them with soft skills and a knowledge base that will translate into a foundation for fatherhood and good citizenship. Our Core Classes assist them in developing the basics of fatherhood that must be present for them to have any chance of succeeding as a parent and spouse. This is the major part of the Directed Learning aspect of their training.

As they move along the continuum, they begin to develop more skills that give them options to start making decisions based on good information and additional training. They acquire an educational milestone such as their HSE or a job certification which begins to empower them to start making decisions that they have not been able to do before. They take those credentials and explore options and begin making long term decisions and follow through with life decisions that positively impact their families based on all of their training. This moves them further along the continuum towards self-direction and determination.

And finally, they move to the far end of the continuum where they are self-determined individuals who are good citizens; consistently employed; have stable families; and have Hope for the future! See Continuum Diagram below:

How Successful Is the Fathers and Families Center?

The true test of any program is to actually measure the results of the program. Although the anecdotal success stories are too numerous to list here, the hard data is irrefutable.  Without hard data is easy to make claims of usefulness that are not based on reality. However, in the case of Fathers and Families Center in Indianapolis the evidence is clear.

FFC serves approximately 1,500 participants and their families each year which includes the following:

Barrier Removal Assistance:  1,242 received food, clothing, personal care items, transportation, rent or utility assistance.
Healthy Relationships:  Approximately 1,000 men and women attended healthy marriage/relationship classes.

Mental/Physical Health Services:  Over 100 received therapeutic outpatient counseling for mental, behavioral and/or emotional issues/disorders; 360 received therapeutic outpatient counseling for substance abuse/addiction. 100% of participants were enrolled in Wishard Advantage (Health Insurance).

Education Barrier Removal:  Over 130 obtained their High School Equivalency Diploma, resulting in an increased earning potential of approximately $115/week (GED Testing Service).

Career/College:  80 program graduates enrolled in Ivy Tech Community College or other post-secondary institutions.

Employment Barrier Removal:  560 participants secured jobs with the majority of participants having the greatest barriers to employment, such as low education, criminal background and limited previous work experience.

Financial Stability:  Average starting wage was $11.24 which is $3.99 higher than Indiana’s minimum wage rate.

Parental/Family Engagement: 90% reported an increase in parenting time whether supervised, unsupervised, overnights or placement.

In addition, FFC partners with the community and works with our partners to accomplish the goals of our organization:

• FSSA- Indiana Department of Child Services: Assists with educating fathers and helping them navigate the child support and welfare systems.

• Indianapolis Marion County Police Department:  Helps ex-offenders reintegrate into the community through referral to FFC programs and support services.

• Ivy Tech Community College: Partner in College Readiness Program – a sixteen week transition program to college, as well as admissions support/counseling and facility usage.

Warren Township Adult Education (ABE) Program: As a Title II entity, provides evening instructor, instructional assistants and HSE and TABE testing for participants.

• WorkOne/EmployIndy: Provides training and certification opportunities in high wage/high demand employment sectors.

• Employer Partners:  Partnership with over 80 local employers – some whom are willing to employ ex-offenders.

Reich, Kathleen and Sylvester, Kathleen, Restoring Fathers to Families and Communities: Six Steps for Policymakers. (2000)

U.S. Census Bureau, Children's Living Arrangements and Characteristics: March 2002, P200-547, Table C8. Washington D.C.: GPO, 2003.

Sedlak, Andrea J. and Diane D. Broadhurst. The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect: Final Report. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. Washington, D.C., September 1996.

About the Author:
Dr. Rudy Duran is a leading educator in the reform and restoration of underperforming school systems. Over the past twenty-five years, he has served as a graduate professor in Educational Leadership; a school superintendent; a high school principal; a middle school principal; teacher; and inner-city education consultant.  He has been a leader in the education movement to close the gap in the academic performance between ethnic groups and the elevation of performance for poverty students of all ethnicities.  He has been selected by the National School Boards Association as One of Twenty-to-Watch in the United States for the implementation of technology in public schools.  He has been a key designer in the development of performance-based Educational Leadership training for principals and superintendents for over fifteen years. He is currently the Education Manager at Fathers and Families in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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