By Ed Prince
Executive Director, WA. St. Comm. On African American Affairs
When I was about three years old, my father moved out and I became a familiar statistic – a young African American child growing up without a father figure. Today more children are growing up without their biological father in the home than at any point in our history. Responsible father involvement becomes even more critical for children in the child welfare system, especially for those who have been placed in non-relative care. Fortunately, DSHS noticed this trend and has been working to empower Washington fathers.
The DSHS Fatherhood Initiative works to reconnect fathers with their children. In 2008, DSHS received funding to create a pilot program focused on fathers. This funding allowed them to work in partnership with the University of Washington and the American Humane Society to create a video focused on their work with fathers and develop a curriculum where veteran fathers worked with newer fathers and provided them tools to navigate the child welfare system. This program is called Fathers Matter.
Within the Fathers Matter program, veteran fathers who have been through the process teach the newer fathers skills including:
– Communicating with your attorney, caseworker, and other players in your case
– Managing your stress
– Working with the Child Protective Services caseworker
– How to get your child returned
– Being kind but assertive
– Your rights as a father
– Tips on visiting with your child
I had an opportunity to sit down with one of the veteran fathers and they shared their story with me and walked me through the twelve week curriculum that they provide for the newer fathers. Fathers can start at any time, they don’t have to wait for a twelve week cycle to end. I came away impressed by his passion for this issue and thrilled that we have people working so hard to reconnect fathers with their children. As a father myself I can’t imagine what it would feel like to not be with my children. I’m very pleased we have this resource available as this has long been an important issue in the African American community.
Currently this program is located in thirteen counties including King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Thurston counties.
If you know a father who might be interested in this program, please have them contact the Commission on African American Affairs at (360)-725-5663 and we will be happy to connect them to people in their area that can assist them.