“Failing to help men become strong fathers sets in motion a series of negative outcomes that will last decades,” said Jessica Seinfeld, the president and founder of GOOD+ Foundation, at an Ascend event on fatherhood at the Institute. “By engaging fathers, we dream of giving moms—whose responsibilities and stress are endless—an engaged coparent and dads the opportunity to feel anchored to their children.” These days, leaders are redefining how they work with struggling Americans, including by engaging the whole family. Ascend and GOOD+, a nonprofit focused on lifting families out of poverty, invited fathers, policymakers, and experts to explore fatherhood—a critical link in family prosperity.
Jesus Benitez, a City University of New York Fatherhood Academy graduate and mentor coordinator, shared his own story of transformation. He started by learning better parenting skills and accessing resources to pursue an education. Today, Benitez is in a healthy co-parenting relationship, is finishing his bachelor’s degree, and is pursuing a doctoral candidacy in philosophy.
Programs like the CUNY Fatherhood Academy are excellent at equipping fathers with the tools to become better parents, but those fathers still have to navigate systems that are ill-equipped to support them. “So many of the programs we operate at the state and local levels are based on federally designed programs built on a perception of families that literally goes back to the early 1900s,” says Reggie Bicha, an Ascend Fellow and the former executive director of the Colorado Department of Human Services. “What do children need from their families in order to grow healthy and to be in a position to thrive as they move into adulthood? How do we design and operate our systems around that?”