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Poverty & Equity Thought Leadership

Connecting Fathers to Their Children: Families First & The Urban League

Building resilient families in our community takes collaboration, creativity and innovation.  The Families First and The Urban League of Greater Atlanta collaboration which began in February 2020 to provide young, incarcerated fathers the opportunity to connect to their children is an example of creative solutions to help our families move from surviving to thriving. Sitting down with social worker and Program Director at Family First’s Parenting Plus division Shakenna Gray, Gray shared a wealth of valuable information about programs and services within Parenting Plus. This included the partnership with The Urban League of Greater Atlanta as well as Families First’s own work through their Parenting Time program.

To better help Parenting Plus reconnect or establish connections between fathers and their children, Families First formed a partnership with The Urban League of Greater Atlanta and several prison systems. These current prison systems are Douglas County Detention Center, Fulton County Jail, and Cobb County Detention Center while the Henry and DeKalb County Jails are prison systems that will begin receiving service in the near future. This partnership assists young fathers transitioning from low offense prison sentences and provides additional support to resources in the community.  

Those resources provided by Families First’s Parenting Plus division include community linkage to vocational services, Parenting Time services- access and visitation, legal resources such as Atlanta Legal Aid, and internal referrals for Families First’s Behavioral Health department. Resources from the Urban League also extends vocational services, job readiness, housing referrals, and referrals for mental health services.

Elaborating further, Gray emphasized the impactful and resilience building services provided that aid in building connections between young fathers and their children. 

 “Not only with curriculum, we provide them (fathers) with educating them on how to gain access to their children, we coach them on positive communication with the co-parent, and how to have fun with your children, because that is essential, especially in the first five years of that child’s development.”  

Currently, Gray estimates that at least 20 young fathers have completed the parenting coursework since the inception of the program and partnership in February of 2020. With the coursework and services briefly pausing due to COVID-19, the now resumed program is expected to reach an additional 50 young fathers by the end of the 2021 fiscal year. 

Using Georgia laws as a basis, Gray estimated that likely 80% of incarcerated young fathers have no access or connection to their children. In states where a child is born out of wedlock, the father has no access or legal rights to that child. 

With many roadblocks and hurdles in trying to see their children, Gray shared that the fathers trying to reach their children see hope and possibility of reconnecting with them early on in the process. 

The fathers achieve this feeling by being able to sit down and be heard by the caseworkers, as often many other organizations or agencies have previously dismissed their attempts to reach their children.

Gray also gave some insight into some of the negative perceptions surrounding the role fathers play in their children’s lives. However, those stigmas are shattered the moment you work with fathers who aren’t able to have contact with their children. 

“You see where they are, the many obstacles they have to face just to gain access to their children, then you see they are dedicated. They just need a little extra guidance.” 

Additionally, Gray spoke about Families First’s Parenting Time and the invaluable work it does. Parenting Time is a free referral-based service through the Department of Human Services (DHS) division of Child Support Services to parents with an active child support case number. She stated that Parenting Time has reached around 350 clients thus far in the 2021 fiscal year and that the number is expected to grow exponentially post-pandemic.  

Services provided by Families First’s Parenting Time include legal resources as well as the opportunity for a mediation with the custodial parent, a parenting plan and a visitation schedule. Parenting Time provides pivotal work in establishing a connection between parents and their children through this 90-day program. 

In regard to how one can support Parenting Plus as well as the DHS’s division of Child Support Services, Gray shared “One way to support definitely is through word of mouth. Talking about our services and some of the benefits we offer. Also, connections to the community resources, legal aid, job readiness, mentorships, those are some things that are needed and could be good resources for us.”

With the discussion coming to a close, Gray shared one more insight into the vital role of fathers in building resilience within the family and in our youth as well as in setting an example for their children. 

“I’m a female, I can never walk in a young father’s shoes, nor can I ever teach a young male how to be a man, so their role is essential. I think that’s one thing we have to start uplifting in the community that we serve is that fathers are valuable and needed, just as well as the mothers are.” 

To learn more about Families First’s Parenting Plus division and programs offered visit them at https://familiesfirst.org/parenting/.


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