Supporting Young Fathers
Why It Matters:
- Young fathers have lower incomes and lower socioeconomic status than men who become fathers at older ages.1
- Young fathers are also more likely to live in poverty and be unemployed than men who become fathers at older ages.2
- Far too often, young fathers are underserved: programs are usually designed for young mothers, with young fathers often perceived as less important or optional.
- Supporting expectant and parenting young families, including young fathers, helps increase educational attainment and reduce the rate of repeat pregnancies.3,4
In July 2013, the HHS Office of Adolescent Health awarded the New Jersey Department of Children and Families a four-year grant through the Pregnancy Assistance Fund Program to support expectant and parenting teens, women, fathers, and families.
The New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) has implemented the program Promoting Success for Expectant & Parenting Teens New Jersey (PSNJ) to strengthen case management and child care support for adolescent parents. PSNJ helps adolescent parents successfully complete their education, improve health outcomes, increase parenting skills, and decrease intimate partner violence.
In 2014, New Jersey DCF began funding the Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. (YAP) to implement the Fatherhood Healthy Relationships Initiative for expectant and parenting young fathers between the ages of 16 and 21. This initiative seeks to shift New Jersey’s social climate towards one that supports fathers as essential, beneficial influences in their children’s lives. The initiative has hired two fatherhood specialists who will work with young fathers, as well as provide technical assistance to other programs within DCF.
The initiative completed two “Nurturing Fathers” workshops series, which fathers reported helped them achieve gainful employment, better manage their finances, and maintain a more positive relationship with their child’s mother. For example, pre-program, 44 percent of the participants had a verbal understanding of parental responsibilities with the mother of the child, compared to 71 percent of the participants post-program. Additionally, activities such as having a meal with the child, taking the child to needed places, helping with bedtime and homework, and talking with the child every day all increased from 55 percent pre-program to 71 percent post-program. Finally, the percentage of young fathers who reported feeling “happy” with their child increased from 78 percent to 100 percent during the course of the program.5
Showing exceptional determination to make a difference in his community after his experience, another participant partnered with his local DCF to facilitate a peer support group for young fathers in his community.
YAP further promoted father engagement in children’s lives by encouraging fathers to participate in New Jersey’s “Dads Take Your Child to School” day. Over 100 fathers, including young fathers, participated in this event. Held in collaboration with Camden and Newark Public Schools, the event provided families with opportunities to take pictures with their children and t-shirts stating “Fathers Matter” or “My Dad Brought Me to School Today.” Fathers received a “red carpet” salute and were celebrated for being committed to their child, family, and community.
Future plans for the New Jersey Department of Children and Families and YAP include setting up a fatherhood advisory group with the young fathers who have graduated from the Nurturing Fathers classes, in partnership with a local community provider. Additionally, the staff would like to continue to explore creative strategies to engage non-traditional young fathers who are not enrolled in a DCF funded school-based program.
“This program helped save my marriage.” --Participant in Nurturing Fathers workshop