August 2, 2012

Editorial from The State: A decade of helping dads — and counting

The State newspaper published the following editorial by Associate Editor Warren Bolton on August 2, the same day as the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families’ Decade of Dads celebration at The Zone at Williams Brice Stadium at the University of South Carolina. The event underscores the importance of responsible fatherhood and celebrates the achievements of the center and local fatherhood programs in working with thousands of fathers across to the state to rebuild their lives and their families. The event marks the 10 year anniversary of the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families’ service to fathers and families. The center is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System.



Bolton: A decade of helping dads — and counting
By Warren Bolton, Associate Editor, The State

CHILDREN can be very perceptive and caring.

For example, my 7-year-old son, Alexander, regularly expresses compassion for children who don’t have active fathers in their lives.

Whether it’s a fellow church member or a kid he meets at school or while playing youth sports, if he learns that their father isn’t in the home, it’s not long before Alexander asks me why and we talk about the various reasons that might be so. He wonders how it all affects his little friends.

With me being at home and always active with him, his 3-year-old brother and Mom, he sees his reality as that which all kids should have. And it is. While so many are born out of wedlock and so many others watch as dad walks out, God intended for kids to have a mother and father in the home. But all too often, fathers are absent.

“I wish (fill in the blank) had a dad,” Alexander sometimes says.

Unfortunately, society isn’t as helpful as it needs to be to bring fathers and families back together. If the dad’s not there, he’s often tossed on the heap of life, regardless of the reason for his absence. There are many who write these men off; we’ve even devised laws dealing with custody and child support and family issues that are skewed toward the mother, although they’re all supposed to be aimed at ensuring the best interest of the child rather than either parent.

And don’t let the father lag on child-support payments. At that point, he becomes an absolute deadbeat.

Count me among those who think that there are few things worse than a sorry man who doesn’t care for his children. But men who struggle to care for their children and family don’t all deserve to be looked upon with disdain; they need help.

These men aren’t deadbeat; they’re dead broke. They lack jobs, transportation, education and an understanding of a Family Court system that can at times be unforgiving.

And in South Carolina, many lacked an advocate. That’s the role the S.C. Center for Fathers and Families has so ably filled over the past decade. The center supports local programs that make a difference in the lives of dads and families every day. There are six fatherhood programs that serve 11 communities, including Fairfield, Lexington and Richland counties as well as the Upstate, Lowcountry and Myrtle Beach areas. They serve more than 1,200 fathers a year; last year, they served more than 1,700.

Later this morning, the center will hold an event to celebrate the great work it and its local fatherhood programs have done to help thousands of fathers across the state to rebuild their lives. Sam Wyche, former head coach of the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals, will be the keynote speaker. USC men’s basketball Coach Frank Martin also will speak. The gathering will culminate the nonprofit’s “Decade of Dads” celebration, which has been going on the past few months.

While the Center for Fathers and Families is celebrating its 10th year, its important work started earlier than that. In the late 1990s, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina established several initiatives around the state aimed at helping men become better fathers. The foundation believed that South Carolina’s children could be brought out of poverty if fathers could rebuild their lives and reconnect with their families.

Research shows that children who grow up without their biological fathers are not only more likely to live in poverty, but they are more likely to drop out of school, become delinquents, have behavioral or emotional problems or have children out of wedlock.

While the fatherhood initiatives around the state showed success in supporting struggling fathers, many of whom are poor or minority, the Sisters decided there was more to be done. So, it expanded its efforts by engaging leaders and community members to work toward changing policies and supporting practitioners to give fathers a better chance of reconnecting with and caring for their children.

In 2002, Sisters, which has contributed millions to help fathers become better dads, started the Center for Fathers and Families to carry on this noble mission.

It should come as no surprise that the past few years have been among the toughest as the center helped men who were struggling even before the Great Recession try to reclaim and strengthen their lives during some of the toughest economic times most of us have ever seen.

‘“When the recession hit, they were already at the back of the line,” said Pat Littlejohn, director of the Center for Fathers and Families.

With so many out of work, companies had a larger pool of prospects to choose from, and those with less experience and less education didn’t fare as well, Ms. Littlejohn said.

And the center itself had to overcome a season during which charitable contributions slowed. “Funding to support nonprofits and important causes has been hard to come by,” Ms. Littlejohn said.

“The good news is that we keep working at it and keep working at it and keep working at it,” she said. “We tell our dads, ‘You’ve just got to find your own way,’ and that’s what we do also.”

While it is taking time today to look back over the past decade, Ms. Littlejohn said she is hoping for a future in which the center strengthens partnerships and its programs expand into more communities.

She said she also hopes to see more people understand the importance of having dads active in their children’s lives. So often, the role of dads is treated as an afterthought, she said.

But it’s time that people “think about fathers and how do we get fathers back into children’s lives as a mainstream thought.”

It’s certainly on the top of my son’s mind.

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From its Cleveland headquarters, the Sisters of Charity Health System provides oversight, leadership and strategic direction to more than 20 organizations responding to community needs in Canton and Cleveland, Ohio, and South Carolina.

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