Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Fathers and Families Center Response to IndyStar Article: “Indiana spends $1 billion on workforce development each year. Here's what it looks like” – Arika Herron.

Arika Herron recently reported on what the $1 billion the State of Indiana spends each year on Workforce Development “looks like”. She tours the Haas Training Educational Center in Lebanon which offers a 15-week course called Right Skills Now CNC Machining. She describes a growing problem in Indiana; there are not enough skilled workers to fulfill the needs of local businesses. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as the “skills gap”. Herron quotes Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb as saying “the state has 85,000 unfilled jobs because employers can’t find skilled workers.” In addition, according to Herron, Indiana has “475,000 [adults] without a high school diploma.”

With all of these jobs remaining unfilled, it is good that the State and the Haas Training Educational Center have partnered to “skill up” Indiana’s residents for the high-paying, high-demand jobs of the 21st century. It is especially good for the two men who are highlighted in the story, one a former graphic designer and the other a current Subaru employee. However, not all of Indiana’s residents are at a place in life where they are prepared financially, educationally, or emotionally for the rigors of a “15-week” training course like the one offered at Haas. Some of Indiana’s residents, like the aforementioned 475,000 without a high school diploma, or those who have experienced an extreme lack of stability in their lives, require a little more assistance to become ready for that type of training. And that is exactly what Fathers and Families Center offers.

2018 marks Fathers and Families Center’s 25th year of serving Marion County families. We provide a holistic continuum of programs and services to at-risk fathers to help move them and their families out of poverty and on to self-sufficiency and stability. Our approach is to remove existing barriers to self-sufficiency such as: lack of education and job training, addiction, family instability, and transportation. To accomplish this, Fathers and Families Center offers a 3-week class called Strong Fathers which focuses on parenting, life skills, and job readiness. We also have an onsite licensed mental health counselor who provides addiction and family counseling. Many of our program participants do not have their high school diploma so we employ a full time education specialist who helps prepare them for the high school equivalency test, a test which is offered on site and at no cost to Strong Fathers participants.

Fathers and Families Center has been very successful using this approach. As a result of our success we were 1 of 5 Indianapolis non-profits to be awarded EmployIndy’s Community Development Block Grant. This grant is meant to help organizations implement EmployIndy’s ABC initiative which stands for “A job, a Better job, a Career.” This year Fathers and Families Center will partner with a diverse group of local training providers such as Hoosier Occupational Training Services, Health and Science Innovation, The Indiana Plan, and Ivy Tech to offer advanced training opportunities to all of our participants and connect them with employers in need of fully trained and credentialed employees.

Fathers and Families Center supports the Governors workforce development initiative and thanks the IndyStar’s Arika Herron for bringing attention to it. The purpose of this response is to help complete the picture of what this initiative “looks like”. Indiana can and should offer funding for training programs like Haas, but if residents are not prepared to take part in them, they will not be as successful as they could be, and Indiana’s “skills gap” may not be closed anytime soon.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Reflections on W.E.B. Dubois on his 150th Birthday

February 23rd, 2018 marks the 150th birthday of W.E.B Dubois, one of America’s foremost African-American scholars and luminaries. This anniversary has given me cause for reflection; I wanted to take a look back at his life and work to see what we can still learn from Dubois today. His life’s work centered on improving the lives of African-Americans who were heavily discriminated against and dehumanized by America’s dominating white culture. In Dubois’ day, it was widely believed by whites that black people were sub-human and had no soul, which is why he chose the title of his seminal work “The Souls of Black Folk” to be a direct contradiction of that belief.

After reflecting on his body of work I believe that there is still much which we can learn from Dubois 150 years later. Although many of the legalized forms of discrimination from his time are gone, African-Americans still have not attained full equality or equity with their white counterparts. African-Americans comprise 32% of the jailed population while being only 15% of the total population; they are also imprisoned longer for similar crimes than white people. African-American unemployment sits at close to 11% while the national average is 4.8%. Less than 10% of blacks over 25 have a bachelor’s degree compared to almost 15% for whites.

I look at statistics like this and see the underlying legacy of past discrimination and current systemic discrimination that African-Americans still have to overcome 150 years after Dubois’ birth. However, others would say that they are caused by a deficiency in “black culture” and that there is no legacy of racism in America anymore (a point that is easily disproven when any scrutiny whatsoever is applied).  Dubois once said that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line…” unfortunately it seems that it will also be the problem of the twenty-first century.

My main take away from Dubois, however, is not just recognizing and fighting against the very difficult challenges that have been faced by African-Americans over the centuries since we were first brought here in bondage, but rather….optimism. Dubois was ever the optimist urging us to “Believe in life! Always human beings will live and progress to greater, broader, and fuller life” and envisioning “What a world this will be when human possibilities are freed, when we discover each other, when the stranger is no longer the potential criminal and the certain inferior”. Even though the America of his day must have seemed like society would never accept or respect the humanity of African-Americans, he still believed it would. I have that same optimism today, that we will overcome the legacy of the past, we will teach our children to fight the same fight we have been fighting for 400 years, the fight for equality, and the fight for justice.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

DCS Update: Hoosier Children in Foster Care More Than Doubled in 5 Years-IndyStar:

According to a February 1st article in the Indy Star, the amount of children in foster care has more than doubled in the last 5 years. In fact, according to the article, “Indiana has more children in its child welfare system than any surrounding state — including those with nearly twice Indiana’s overall population”. This is clearly a crisis for Hoosier children and families. While there is substantial disagreement in the Indiana General Assembly as to the reasons for this dramatic rise, both sides agree something needs to be done to address the situation. While people at DCS and in the State House debate what should be done to help Indiana’s most vulnerable children, we here at Fathers and Families Center continue our work.

This year marks Fathers and Families Center’s 25th anniversary of serving Marion County families. During our 25 years we have refined an innovative approach to addressing the issue of children growing up without both parents. Fathers and Families Center’s approach is to assist parents in gaining the life-skills they need through a holistic continuum of programs and services so they can become more engaged and productive parents whose children never end up being involved with DCS. In former DCS Director Mary Bonaventura’s resignation letter last December she stated, among other things, that the opioid epidemic is one of the driving causes of the dramatic increase of children in the child welfare system. Fathers and Families Center has a full-time Licensed Mental Health Counselor on staff and also partners with Fairbanks Hospital to provide drug treatment counseling for our program participants. This is a prime example of Fathers and Families Center’s approach to ensuring child welfare. By helping parents end their addiction to drugs, we dramatically decrease the chances their child will end up in the child welfare system.

Fathers and Families Center provides much more than addiction/mental health counseling, however. We also offer job readiness instruction and advanced training certification. In fact, this year Fathers and Families Center was chosen once again as a recipient of EmployIndy’s Community Development Block Grant. EmployIndy works with Community Based Organizations who have a proven track record of helping low-income, underqualified residents gain the skills necessary to compete for the high-demand, high-skilled jobs of today. This year Fathers and Families Center will partner with a diverse group of local training providers such as Hoosier Occupational Training Services, Health and Science Innovation, The Indiana Plan, and Ivy Tech to offer advanced training opportunities to all of our participants. When a parent is unemployed they are more likely to make dangerous life choices in order to make ends meet, which drastically increases their children’s chances of ending up in the child welfare system; alternatively, when a parent is gainfully employed in a fulfilling job, their children are far less likely to end up in the child welfare system.

The type of interventions discussed above form the crux of Fathers and Families Center’s approach to helping decrease the amount of children who are engaged with the child welfare system. We help their parents so the children never end up there in the first place. While fixing DCS is of the utmost importance to ensure the most vulnerable children in Indiana have a safe place to grow up, addressing the challenges facing parents (that cause children to end up in the care of DCS) is equally.