By Samuel Brown, Fatherhood Mentorship Coordinator, Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Broward CountySponsored By Children's Services Council of Broward County

There is an alarming rate of mothers that are raising children without the presence of fathers. The number of female-headed households, single family homes in America is about 11.5 million (84%). In these single mother homes, about 6.2 million (45%) of these mothers are either divorced or separated. In addition, fathers have become reluctant to be a part of their children’s lives because of lack of education, employment and other contributing factors. Is this a change society needs to make?

63% of teen suicides come from fatherless homes, which is five times the national average; 90% of runaways and homeless children are from fatherless homes; 85% of children with behavioral problems come from fatherless homes, which is 20 times the national average; 71% of dropouts come from fatherless homes, which is 9 times the national average; and 85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes, which is 20 times the national average.

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Children living in single parent families are five times more likely to be poor. The lack of father involvement in the home can negatively impact a child physically, emotionally, and socially. Statistics indicate children whose fathers are not present in the home are more likely to struggle in society. Statistics have also indicated that when a father is absent from the home it puts the child at a higher risk of dying during the first year of life. There are several factors that contribute to that statement. Absent fathers can put expectant mothers under lots of stress. This happens because they have more children to tend to, they have to continue to work to provide, they have household chores to do alone, and bills to manage. All these are responsibilities that the mother must continue to take on by herself if the father is absent. Activities like these can put lots of stress and strain on the mother that could cause birth defects or babies being born prematurely.

In Broward County, premature birth is the number one cause of infant deaths. About 40% of these deaths are preventable and father involvement is a factor. Higher levels of fathers being involved with their children are associated with fewer behavior problems, higher levels of sociability, and higher academic achievement among children and adolescents. Research has shown that fathers, no matter what their income or cultural background, can play a critical role in their children’s education. When fathers are involved, their children learn more, perform better in school, and exhibit healthier behaviors. Even when fathers do not share a home with their children, their active involvement can have a lasting and positive impact.

One example of a program working to improve the role of fathers in the lives of children is the Fatherhood Mentorship Program, at Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies of Broward (funded in large part by the Children’s Services Council of Broward County). This program was developed to address the needs of fathers by connecting them with needed tools and resources. The program consists of 2, 1/2 hour educational seminars for 12 weeks. Throughout this time, fathers are exposed to several different topics presented by a professional in that field of study. On a recent series, for example, Lionel Lightbourne inspired the fathers with his motivational speech on the values of life. One participant related, “I was on the verge of quitting my job; that’s why I signed up for this program. After hearing Lionel speak, it reminded me that I have to be there for my kids and fight through hard times.” He and other fathers in the program so far have become educated on the importance of the role fathers play in the success and prosperity of their children. The Fatherhood Mentorship Program is also geared toward reducing the rate of infant deaths, so it educates fathers on the safety practices parents should use with their small children and newborns. “I used to think that going outside to smoke was in the best interest for my baby. I never knew that the smoke particles being on my clothes could be just as harmful,” said the father of an infant baby girl. Now he only smokes before he goes home and at night after she is gone to sleep.

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The idea of the Fatherhood Mentorship Program is to get fathers like these to step up and be involved with their children in an attempt to prevent things such as putting children at a higher risk of not making it to their first birthday, children having behavioral issues, and low levels of academic performance. The

Fatherhood Mentorship Program has definitely brought a spark to the fathers who participate. They understand the importance of being involved for the wellbeing of their child’s life. The fathers are taking the initiative and showing that they really want to be seen as positive figures in the eyes of their children and their communities. These fathers are putting forth the type of efforts the Fatherhood Mentorship Program aims to elicit from fathers in the program and across our community.

Men, as fathers and caregivers, play a pivotal role in the health and wellbeing of babies and children, not just a supportive role. This means being just as responsible in participating in their children’s everyday activities, as well as having a positive relationship with their children’s mother. For more information on the Fatherhood Mentorship Program, visit www.hmhbbroward.org.

The Children’s Services Council of Broward County is an independent taxing authority which was established by a public referendum on September 5, 2000, and reauthorized via referendum on November 4, 2014, which, through Public Act, Chapter 2000-461 of the laws of Florida, authorized the Council to levy up to 0.5 mills of property taxes. The role of the Council is to provide the leadership, advocacy and resources necessary to enhance children’s lives and empower them to become responsible, productive adults through collaborative planning and funding of a continuum of quality care. To learn more about programs and services the Children’s Services Council funds, please call (954) 377-1000.

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Above content provided by Children’s Services Council of Broward County.