A partnership between the local departments of Justice and Human Services is giving local fathers the change to participate in an eight-week pilot program that focuses on giving them “all the tools they need” to become more involved in their children’s lives, officials said Friday.
During a press conference on St. Thomas, Human Services Commissioner Vivian Ebbesen-Fludd said one of the components of the program includes breaking down some of the barriers fathers face, including the perception that even being a part of class on children could make them seem “weak.”
“The program really focuses on giving these individuals tools and resources, and breaking down that stigma that puts them in a particular box,” Ebbesen-Fludd said Friday. “This is about providing them the way to actually be fathers, not from a punitive end, but collaboratively, to achieve that goal.”
The eight weeks have already started and officials said that the seven men participating have all volunteered for the program. Ebbesen-Fludd said that local Kids Count statistics have showed that 80 percent of the children in Human Services’ custody have grown up in single-parent households, headed by a mother instead of father and, of that amount, 33 percent live in poverty.
“When a father is involved, the wellbeing of the child is something that we have evaluated separately from the mother’s involvement and the result is that fathers have demonstrated having an effect in increased wellbeing,” she said.
The program uses the National Fatherhood Initiative curriculum that Deputy Human Services Commissioner Janet Turnbull-Krigger, a trained social worker, said Friday has had a “major impact” across the country within the jurisdictions that use it.
Further financial support from fathers to single-parent households and a better relationship between both parents, even if they are not married, increases “positive outcomes for children” and that is the overall goal of the program, she said.
“The program is going well so far and the men involved have shown a great interest in the sessions and in having a place that they can go to regularly and get the help they need for addressing issues with parenting,” said Carlton Stephens, who is leading the fatherhood sessions.
“The parents are coming regularly and are getting the critical skills they need. We know there is a lack of involvement with fathers in the community and now we are able to educate them about their value and the importance of their role and recommit them to supporting their children.”
Attorney General Claude Walker also explained Friday that the program came out of Justice’s efforts to hold accountable fathers that have skipped out on child support payments. Walker announced last September that Justice’s paternity division would be actively going after men that are more than 30 days late in their payments, including revoking drivers and business licenses or passports and, if necessary, seizing assets.
Walker said Friday that none of the men currently on the list are involved in the program, but since it is a pilot, Justice would be looking at whether it should be as imposed as a requirement for those that are late in their payments.
“The goal is that we will have better fathers and the hope is that we get greater interest, that we will have fathers that see the benefit of being a part of it, and better fathers that are more intimately involved in their children’s lives instead of what we have now,” Walker said.
Right now the program is on St. Thomas, but Walker said the two departments are looking at possible expansion to St. Croix. Anyone contacted by Justice about late payments can also be part of the programs, he said.
To find out more, residents can call (340) 774-0930 ext. 4116 or 4393. Turnbull-Krigger said that there is also childcare available for fathers that have to pick up their kids from school or camp, or have them visiting on the day of the sessions.