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The Dads You Might Not Serve, But Should

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Mar 29, 2016

If your organization isn't serving working, resident dads, it should be. And especially when they lack a college degree or cohabit.

Ron Mincy Texas Fatherhood Summit.pngI recently attended the Texas Fatherhood Summit in Austin, Texas during which I heard Dr. Ron Mincy--a professor at Columbia University and one of the leading fatherhood scholars in the country--deliver the keynote address. It was eye opening, to say the least. (To watch Dr. Mincy's presentation, click here. Then scroll down and click on the "Introduction and Keynote Address" link.)

Dr. Mincy argued that many direct-service providers miss serving an important population--working, resident dads who make up to $40,000 a year.

Why are they missed? Because, Dr. Mincy said, of the focus in recent decades on serving "disadvantaged" dads (e.g. unemployed, non-resident dads). This focus is not wrong, per se. It's simply limited. It has resulted in a huge missed opportunity because working, resident dads comprise a much larger (and more diverse) population in need of help than do the dads most service providers consider to be disadvantaged.

It's helpful to understand what caused this missed opportunity and some of the dynamics associated with it. 

The genesis of this missed opportunity began some 40 years ago with an increased focus at the federal and state levels on collecting child support. (The Federal Office Of Child Support was created in 1974 to bolster and coordinate state child support enforcement efforts.) At the same time, a divergent trend started in which:

  • The average wages of working men stagnated or declined.
  • Birth rates outside of marriage rose, especially among cohabiting parents.

So at the same time federal and state officials supercharged efforts to collect child support from non-resident dads (many of them unemployed or underemployed), more married and non-married but resident dads saw their ability to financially provide for their families become more difficult.

This trend has played out differently in racial and ethnic groups. Specifically, Black children:

  • Rarely grow up with both parents.
  • Experience the non-residence of their dads while very young.

White and Hispanic children, when compared to Black children:

  • Are much more likely to grow up with both parents.
  • Experience non-residence of their dads when they are older.

While Asian children, whose parents tend to stay married:

  • Have resident, working dads whose wages are low and, as a consequence, live in low-wage families.

Nevertheless, regardless of race or ethnicity, Dr. Mincy pointed out that for two-parent families, this trend in wages has been associated with a lack of education and cohabitation. The trend has:

  • Depressed the incomes of all resident dads' wages without college degrees.
  • Depressed the incomes of families when both parents lack college degrees, especially if they're cohabiting.

In summarizing this trend, Dr. Mincy presented a profile of the dads of today's children who live in poverty that your organization should seek to serve. Their dads are working men from all racial and ethnic groups without college degrees who struggle to financially support their children. Furthermore:

  • Some become non-resident and must support their children while living apart. Non-resident Black dads are more likely to be overrepresented when children are young, but White and Hispanic dads increasingly join this group as children age.
  • The dads who continue to live with their children struggle to attain even average wages and have little time to spend with their children. White, Hispanic, and Asian dads primarily comprise this group.

So it is this diverse latter group (which also includes many Black fathers) that offers an opportunity for direct-service providers willing to serve this vulnerable population. While they are not "disadvantaged" in the traditional way in which most providers think about disadvantaged dads, they are certainly "disadvantaged" or "vulnerable" from the perspective of being challenged to be the best dads they can be. Vulnerable doesn't mean that they're not good dads, but that they're at increased risk of not being there for their children--physically, emotionally, and spiritually--because of their financial struggle to support their families.

Unfortunately, these dads lack for government and non-government support. What exists is limited. Dr. Mincy noted that:

  • At best, workforce development programs may assist these dads by providing vocational or skills training.
  • Community colleges offer education, but resident dads rarely enroll because they must provide for their families.
  • Second jobs may increase income, but reduce the engagement of dads with their children and stress parental relationships, at least among non-immigrants.
  • Work in the informal economy offers money without labor protections.
  • Although these conditions may adversely affect health and contact between dads and children, no financial support interventions are available.

Dr. Mincy said the bottom line is these dads need increased attention from direct-service providers if our country is to effectively reduce child poverty and increase children's long-term opportunities. I couldn't agree more. The myopic focus on who we think as being a disadvantaged dad must cease. We must expand our notion of who is in need and worthy of help in becoming a more involved, responsible, committed dad. 

What are you doing to serve working, resident dads?

How have you effectively reached and served working, resident dads?

Are you a dad looking for help? Please visit our Fatherhood Program Locator™ and enter your city and state on the map to find programs and resources in your community.   

Topics: General Fatherhood Research & Studies, Tips & Tricks

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