The Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative (MFI) evolved from a two-day training session held in October 2005. The session was conducted by staff from the Maryland-based National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) at the request of Mayor Tom Barrett. More than 25 community leaders participated in this initial training session. Out of this planning session, a subcommittee emerged with the charge of convening a major, city-wide summit in the fall of 2006. The Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative Conference was held on October 13 and 14, 2006, with more than 1,200 men attending.
Because of the overwhelming community response to the summit, the Mayor and the planning committee formalized the MFI, including hiring a full-time director who serves as a resource and liaison to fathers in this community. The Greater Milwaukee Foundation has provided $75,000 in initial seed funding, with the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee providing additional in-kind support. Of all the social problems facing America today, the widespread absence of fathers from the lives of children is by far the most socially consequential and costly problem. The cumulative costs of father absence directly associated with criminal justice, remedial education, family courts, and numerous family services account for a huge portion of city budgets, resulting in dramatically higher taxes, urban flight, and other problems.
Although father absence is now an epidemic affecting every class and sector of American society, its prevalence and impact within America’s urban communities is especially acute. At present:
Twenty-four million, or 34 percent of America’s children, live in a household in which the biological father does not live.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 50 percent of all white children and 75 percent of all black children born in the last two decades are likely to live for some portion of their childhood in a father-absent household.
In urban America, the numbers are often far higher. Whereas America has always experienced family fragmentation to some extent, today’s father absence is radically different in scale. We have moved from an occasional father-absent household to father-absent neighborhoods, where the absence, not the presence, of fathers has become the norm.
Through research and anecdotal information compiled by the Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative, with assistance from the National Fatherhood Initiative, the following six areas of focus have been identified as having the most direct impact on men/fathers being involved, responsible and committed in the lives of their children:
Driver’s License Recovery – Lack of a valid driver’s license is a significant barrier for many individuals, particularly low income youth and people of color who are more easily caught in the cycle of serious legal, financial and social consequences.
Child Support Debt Reduction – This component will continue the successful effort established at the 2006 summit, which attracted more than 1,200 men. Men who attended summit workshops were eligible for a credit toward back child support owed to the State of Wisconsin. To date, almost one million dollars of back debt has been forgiven.
Media/Public Relations – A consistent, strong communications plan is needed regarding the issue of fatherhood and its impact on all segments of Milwaukee. The MFI will develop a media campaign that will highlight the benefits of fathers’ involvement with their children.
Education – The MFI will identify resources for men to help them academically, teach them good parenting skills and work with them to become good financial stewards. Together these strategies will enable men to seek and secure better employment opportunities, become better parents to their children and work with them to help provide more financial security to their children.
Men’s Health – This component will encourage men and fathers to make a life-long commitment to healthier living. By encouraging men to focus on their own health and wellbeing, this will promote healthy lifestyles in their families and communities as a whole.
Summit – The purpose of this annual, two-day event is to bring men together to discuss the issue of fatherlessness, identify solutions and resources, promote positive images of the father role and gather data to help address the many obstacles that prevent men from being involved, responsible and committed fathers.