By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Contrary to stereotype, according to the Center For Disease Control (CDC), some 2.5 million Black fathers live with their children, while 1.7 million do not.
The CDC also claims that, on average, Black fathers who live with their children are the most involved fathers of all.
But a large segment of Black men are unable to engage with their offspring for various reasons, bringing into focus programs designed to change this trend.
In Norfolk for the past decade, it’s the Fatherhood Development Group, organized and funded
through the city’s Department of Social Services
It was created to provide instructions and other resources to enable men to be more effective, engaging, and nurturing parents to their children.
The current FDG class started recently, according to Corey Brooks one of the two facilitators of the program.
It can accommodate up to 15 people during a program period. But the current edition of the FDG, he said has five men of varying age, participating virtually, due to COVID-19.
For eight weeks, Brooks and co-facilitator Cedric Green run a program to help fathers gain unsupervised interaction with their children, coordinated with the city’s Juvenile and Domestic Courts and Social Service Department.
Brooks said that men as young as 17 and as senior as 60-plus have participated in the program.
The curriculum is centered around providing the participants with skills and insight on a variety of issues related to parenting.
But there are also interactive discussions related to issues the men face personally, such as substance abuse, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse they may have experienced themselves.
This part of the course is designed to achieve self-discovery and overcome emotional barriers that deter them from being effective adults and parents to their children.
“Many men are the victims of emotional abuse and they do not know it,” said Brooks. “The programs are predicated on their discussion, input, and engagement openly about issues and past experiences which have deterred their emotional and social growth.”
Also, the curriculum focuses on defining the differences between motherhood and fatherhood and anger management.
There is instruction on developing employment seeking and retention skills, financial literacy, and other skills which will enable the men to be effective individuals and parents.
Brooks said that representatives from the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) lecture the participants on searching for and interviewing for employment.
Brooks said representatives from Childhood Enforcement provide information on their role and responsibility as parents.
They are also provided access to programs that enable them to secure the General Education Degree (GED), Bachelor’s Degree, and certifications in various vocational skill areas.
Substance abuse, criminal records, and lack of anger management are among the “barriers” which attribute to the courts and social services barring men and women from securing unsupervised interaction with their children.
“If they need more help we will refer them to professionals who can help them with personal and real-life issues,” said Brooks. “A lot of men have trouble showing affection to their children. Just saying ‘I love you’ is hard. Some devise other ways of uttering those three
words. But it’s important to show such emotion for their emotional growth and being a good parent.”
Many of the participants in the FDG had the preconceived notion that the class would be run by a woman, said Brooks, and this would have retarded their ability to be open and engaging on many issues.
“But once they get involved and discover how the program runs and involve mostly males, they opened up,” said Brooks. “They talk about a lot of personal issues, including being abused emotionally. Many of them do
not know they were emotionally physically or sexually abused.”
“They did not recognize it or how to cope with it,” Brooks said. “They were told to just be tough, suck it up and move on.”
Brooks said the participants who are dealing with the effects of emotional abuse are referred to professionals who will help them to address their issues.
Brook said the participants are given advice about how to navigate the child support system, especially if they owe back payments.
“We’ve had men in the group who admitted to having eight kids…with eight different women,” said Brooks. “We try to keep it real with them and give them tools to cope with the choices they have made.”
Although the program is geared to confront the myriad
of issues facing men as fathers, Brooks said there is nothing that bars women from the group.
A large number of low and middle-income Black families are run by women rearing and providing for children alone and with extended family.
Brooks said that before a male parent is cleared to have unsupervised interaction with his child, personnel from social services must inspect the dwelling where the child will be housed either for brief or extended periods.
He said Child Protective Services and the Courts are very strict about the conditions of the household
“They will do a thorough inspection of the place, Brooks said. “It must need to be safety proof, clean, free of poisons, and other materials which pose a danger to the child.”
This includes the presence of substances such as alcohol and marijuana.
Brooks said parents are even instructed by the city’s fire department on buying and installing child car seats.
To learn more about the Fatherhood Development Group or if you are interested in becoming a volunteer facilitator, email Xaviera Evans or call him at 757-664-6370.