Today in America, the U.S. Census reports that 19.7 million children (1 in 4) live without a responsible father in the home. A child who grows up in a home without a father is four times more likely to live in poverty, more likely to have behavior problems, more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, two times more likely to drop out of high school, more likely to commit a crime, and more likely to go to prison.
To address these problems, the Responsible Fathers Initiative (RFI) works with both incarcerated fathers and men in the community assisting them in being more nurturing fathers and more supportive partners. The program operates in Talbot and Dorchester counties, with classes held in Easton, Cambridge, and St. Michaels, and has helped about 20 men and women this past year. In addition to adult groups, the program also runs a Teen Dad group on Mondays at Cambridge – South Dorchester County High School, in partnership with Washington College. The jail classes – the Inside Out Dad and Understanding Dad for Moms are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays. All RFI classes use an evidence-based curriculum created by the National Fathers Initiative (NFI).
“In late 2019, I was asked to take over the Responsible Fatherhood classes held at the Talbot County Detention Center. I accepted the offer with the understanding of the important role fathers play in the life of their children,” comments Corey Pack, Founder and Lead Facilitator of the Responsible Fathers Initiative.
The curriculum for the program is called 24/7 Dad and it was developed by the National Fatherhood Initiative. Both Lou Dorsey and Corey Pack were trained in the 24/7 Dad curriculum that is being taught in 24 jurisdictions in the state. The main mission of the program is to address poverty in the community.
According to Corey, fathers account for 60% of household income. He adds, “So if you’ve removed a dad from the home, you can see that’s a significant loss of income down that the mom or the caregiver have to try to supplement. So, what we try to do is to give the men some encouragement and go through these 12 sessions with them, building their relationships with others, building their self-awareness of who they are, developing better communication skills, learning how to discipline their children and how to better work with their partner.”
He adds that research has shown that for men who are in the criminal justice system and who are involved in fatherhood programs along with wraparound services, there is a 34% reduction in recidivism rates. The other wraparound services help support success through housing and employment.
“We are trying to assist incarcerated people and increase their success when they return to their communities and their families,” he adds.
Lou Dorsey, Co-Facilitator of the Responsible Fathers Initiative with Corey, adds, “We work on five character traits throughout the 12 sessions: self-awareness, caring for self, fathering skills, parenting skills, and relationship skills. Blood makes us relatives, but relationships make us family.”
Dawn Phillips, 2 Gen (Generations)/Whole Family Case Manager, Neighborhood Service Center, Inc. comments, “We identify and encourage fathers to participate in the program. The 2Gen approach focuses on the belief that families deserve to be supported, addressing the major components of education, poverty, and all-around wellness – addressing the barriers and needs, to help families become self-sufficient.”
“We step in with case management support to figure out what everyone in the household needs to become self-sufficient. For some it’s education, for some it’s new jobs, and for others it’s housing. We address those needs and barriers, and the Responsible Fathers Program falls in line because we know the importance of having the father a part of the household. It’s about helping fathers and men of all ages make connections with their families and break the cycles and habits of their families that have led to the fathers being absent.”
Wraparound services are offered beginning with the Neighborhood Service Center’s in-house services such as food pantry, emergency services, energy assistance, and more.
According to NSC’s Executive Director, Marilyn M. Neal, “NSC partners with the Maryland Community Action Partnership (MCAP), which funds $50,000 to NSC as its sub-grantee for the 2 GEN/Whole Families Program; however, the program costs exceed the granted amount. Moreover, NSC’s Community Service Block Grant-Discretionary Grant, which funds services for NSC’s Responsible Fathers Program, ended in Fiscal Year 2022. NSC will continue to advocate throughout Maryland, working with its partners and community donors to further sustain these very critical programs in Talbot County as we continue to move families to self-sufficiency.”
For participant Willie Beasley of Easton, learning to be a productive role model to his children and grandchildren is what he has learned most. He adds, “I’m more of a father now. This class has taught me patience. Now, my son calls me and asks me for help. I feel different about myself and carry myself differently.”
Leonard Palmer of Easton came to the program with different goals. Although not a father yet, he wanted to learn how to be a better father in general and learn how to handle certain situations. He states, “I want to be a better father than what I came up with and teach them right from wrong. This has been new information for me.”
A new member of the group, Brandon Rhodes of Easton joined to get insight into how to raise his three children, ages 15, 12, and six. He comments, “My kids motivate me for everything. I grew up without a dad. My parents did the best they could. I’ve been married for five years. I didn’t know what men are supposed to do in a relationship, so I am still learning things. I have just come here for help in learning how to be a man. You’re genuinely putting me in a position to be the best man I could be.”
Corey reflects, “After looking at the data on absent fathers, I knew that this is where I belong, working to help men realize their full potential and their importance to their families. So, we recently started the non-profit, Responsible Fathers Initiative (RFI). The need for wrap-around social and economic services is critical to our mission.”
The Responsible Fatherhood Initiative works collaboratively with various community partners such as the Neighborhood Service Center, Delmarva Community Services, St. Michaels Community Center, Washington College, Provident State Bank, Health Departments, Chesapeake College, Legal Aid, Workforce Investment Board, and the YMCA of the Chesapeake; thereby giving each father his best chance for success.
Donations for the Responsible Fathers Initiative are needed for gap funds to help with intermediate bills for the men, such as cell phones, transportation, and clothing. Donations can be made online using the website responsiblefathersinitiative.org or by check payable to Responsible Fathers Initiative, 331 Laurel Street, Easton, Maryland 21601. Visit responsiblefathersinitiative.org for further information.