New Jersey legislators recently passed an important bill that will prove vital to fathers and families. NFI has worked for years in this state and applauds the legislators' decision to help connect father to child.
New Jersey Legislation voted yes to a “Responsible Fatherhood Initiative” in New Jersey geared toward strengthening the development of children throughout the state by promoting the positive involvement of both parents in their lives.The bill passed the Assembly and was recently released by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.
“There are many different factors that might inhibit a father’s involvement in their children’s life,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “Whether it’s a strain in the relationship with a child’s mother, somebody who never had a positive male role model in their life as a child, or simply somebody who hasn’t learned to take responsibility, the goal of this initiative is to promote positive interactions between fathers and their children and identify obstacles that impede or prevent their involvement in the lives of their children.
The bill (A-945) will:
- establish a 21-member New Jersey Council on Responsible Fatherhood in the Department of Children and Families in order to promote the participation of both parents in the lives of their children,
- identify needs and priorities relating to fatherhood programs in the state, and
- support the contributions each parent brings to the family unit.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about half of all children spend some part of their life apart from one or both of their parents, and most often the parent who does not live with the child is the father. “There are a number of factors that may impact a father’s ability or willingness to participate in their child’s life,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “For those who grew up without a positive male role model in their life, things like counseling and mentoring can make all the difference and hopefully produce happier, more well-adjusted children.”
“Fatherhood is one of the greatest responsibilities a person can have and it is certainly not one to be taken lightly,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Whenever fathers can be encouraged and supported to develop and maintain more meaningful relationships with their children, the outcome can only result in benefits to our society.”
“This is not a responsibility that can be forced, but one that can be learned if a father is willing,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “We see more and more young fathers who grew up without somebody to model this role for them. As a father of four school-aged sons with a very hectic schedule, I still find the time to be at their football, baseball, basketball, parent teacher conferences, and other activities. I believe with some help and guidance, they can mature into a positive influence in their child’s life.”
The bill requires the council to:
- direct the development and implementation of a Responsible Fatherhood Initiative;
- develop a comprehensive plan that identifies the needs and priorities relating to fatherhood programs in the state and promotes the positive involvement of fathers in their children's lives;
- serve as an information and resource center for data and information on fatherhood programs;
- review the programs, policies, and initiatives of various state departments and community-based organizations that concern responsible fatherhood, and
- make recommendations to the departments and organizations on ways to better coordinate and improve the effectiveness of their programs, policies and initiatives.
The initiative will be responsible for the development of:
- a public awareness campaign;
- an information and support network for fathers trying to foster relationships with their children;
- and plans to identify and promote methods that reduce the negative outcomes experienced by children affected by divorce, legal separation, and custody and visitation disputes.
For years, NFI has helped state and local agencies assess their own and their partners’ (e.g. grantees’ and community-based organizations') readiness to engage fathers and build capacity to serve fathers with customized strategies, and to mobilize states, counties, and cities to promote father involvement. We're thrilled that one example of this work was a Fatherhood Program Camp hosted by NFI in 2012 with the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (NJDCF). You can read the full case study here.
The NJDCF was seeking to strengthen the state’s services to fathers, as they had not been serving fathers in a comprehensive, cross-divisional manner. They also needed a systematic way to more effectively measure the impact of fatherhood programming across the state. NFI was contracted to help address these fatherhood service challenges by:
- Conducting a Father Friendly Check-Up® (FFCU) workshop to help practitioners assess the father friendliness of their locations, and make action plans to facilitate accountability and follow through on specific tasks.
- Providing each state office with a 24/7 Dad® Complete Program kit and facilitator training on how to successfully deliver the program in their communities, as well as follow-up technical assistance to ensure effectiveness.
- Implementing standardized evaluation tools allowing each office and provider to effectively measure the impact of fatherhood programming.
NFI is pleased to have left a legacy of nearly 200 New Jersey state organizations and providers using the same fatherhood program to more effectively reach and serve fathers, allowing for continued peer learning and best practice sharing. As a result of the project, NFI garnered further interest from other divisions within the Department of Children and Families to engage their own staff and constituents around responsible fatherhood.
In closing, I wanted to make sure you knew about this great news from New Jersey. We applaud the legislative leaders in New Jersey for seeking to be part of the solution in their state. You can also checkout the FatherSOURCE locator for organizations that already serve fathers in New Jersey, or download the Fatherhood Program Case Study for New Jersey.
Visit our State and Local Agency Fatherhood Programs page for more information on NFI state agency offerings.