July 29, 2014

Elyria
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State effort aims to help absentee fathers get involved

ELYRIA — While there are men who father children only to run out on their responsibilities for myriad reasons or excuses, many others want to do right by their kids but need some help.

That’s where a new state-sponsored effort is coming into play.

More than 30 representatives of Lorain County’s court system, law enforcement, social service agencies and faith-based groups gathered Wednesday at the Spitzer Conference Center on Lorain County Community College’s campus to take steps to help local absentee fathers take on meaningful roles in the their children’s lives.

The need for such action is crucial, given the “major sociological shift in one generation” in numbers of fathers who are not present in their families’ lives, according to John M. Ellis, director of program services for the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board of Lorain County.

Ellis said that about 24 million children — approximately one in three, now live apart from their biological fathers. The number is two in three among African-American children.

In Lorain County, one in four fathers is absent from households, while the figure soars to 43.5 percent for homes in Lorain. Such numbers are increasingly showing the importance of having fathers — and the discipline they can bring — in their children’s lives, Ellis told the gathering.

“Otherwise, we see kids doing what they want because they are never told no due to no dad being there,” he said.
Lack of fathers in the home also contributes to a host of problems including violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and teen pregnancies.

“Having a father in the home is also a protective factor,” Ellis said.

Wednesday’s meeting was an outgrowth of sessions hosted by U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Copley Twp., at the center last summer that drew the same mix of participants to discuss tackling the issue of absentee fathers. That meeting led to the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board of Lorain County submitting a proposal to bolster fatherhood efforts locally to the Oho Commission on Fatherhood.

Lorain County — which already offers programs designed to offer help to fathers and strengthen their relationships with family — was selected as one of 12 in the state to create such a countywide program and become eligible for a $10,000 one-time seed grant from the state commission.

The group also heard from Ron J. Clark, director of national programming for the National Fatherhood Initiative, who was raised by his mother with four siblings in the Washington, D.C., area.

Clark said society has been far more likely to allocate money and resources to helping mothers and children.

“Absent fathers is not sexy socially,’’ he said. “Programs are far more likely to support kids and indigent women. Fathers are not seen as deserving attention and money.”

Yet the very absence of dads at home translated to $100 billion in government assistance in 2006, Clark said as he talked about a lack of support and employment for struggling dads.

“Fathers can be deadbeat, which means they choose not to be involved. But they can also be dead broke, which means they are willing but not able,” Clark said.

How the problems will ultimately be addressed will requireefforts that can be sustained at the local level. And money will not be the sole solution.

“Throwing money at the problem won’t solve it,” Ellis said. “This is going to take a combination of efforts from agencies, volunteers, pulpits and other sources. They say that better ideas are often born from leaner wallets.”

Due to uncertainty of further state money given the ongoing belt-tightening philosophy of Gov. John Kasich’s administration, Ellis said that “different strategies have to be developed when money isn’t available.”

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.