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Fatherhood Advocates Say Fathers Are Denied the Rights Mothers Are Given

Tonya Glantz, director of the Child Welfare Institute at Rhode Island College.

Tonya Glantz, director of the Child Welfare Institute at Rhode Island College.

 

When it comes to the rights of mothers versus noncustodial fathers, the issue of gender bias is rampant across city, state and federal systems, said Director of Rhode Island College’s Child Welfare Institute Tonya Glantz.

On Friday, May 16, the institute hosted the 2014 R.I. Fatherhood Summit to promote father-inclusive practices and services in Rhode Island. The event was coordinated by André Brown, the institute’s clinical training specialist and co-chair of the Leadership, Equity, & Advocacy for Dads program. Participants included representatives from state, public and community-based agencies, as well as fathers.

“As a professional, I see bias embedded in my own system of child welfare,” said Glantz. “If you’re a father looking for formula for your infant, you are told to come back with the baby’s mom. I’ve seen this occur in state after state. All services are not created equal. We don’t equally serve fathers as we do mothers.”


Tony Judkins

The keynote speaker at the Fatherhood Summit was Tony Judkins, program manager for the John S. Martinez Fatherhood Initiative of Connecticut, a program within the Connecticut Department of Social Services’ Bureau of Child Support Enforcement. Glantz introduced Judkins as a professional who has headed a unique model of father-inclusive services for the past 15 years. “We could learn a lot from Connecticut,” Glantz said.

Judkins explained how the initiative started. He said key leaders in Connecticut were concerned about the impact of absentee fathers on state systems, so in 1999 the Connecticut Department of Social Services developed the Connecticut Fatherhood Initiative, a unique statewide program that promotes the positive involvement of fathers with their children by providing dads with the support they need to get involved and stay connected to their children.

The initiative drafted and passed a number of father-supportive legislation and policy changes, such as a revised statute that now ensures that support orders are based on the noncustodial parent’s actual (as opposed to imputed) earnings, said Judkins.

The initiative also launched a statewide media and public service campaign, a website, and a toll-free information and referral line for fatherhood programs, among other initiatives.

“Connecticut is two or three times the size of Rhode Island,” said Glantz. “If they can do it, we can do it.”

Glantz asked participants to break up into work groups and explore a Fatherhood Bill of Rights and fatherhood practice standards for the state of Rhode Island. Bill of Rights suggestions included:

• The right of fathers to have paternity established at the time of birth. When a mother chooses not to include the father’s name on the birth certificate, the father is not recognized as the father and has none of the rights to family services.

• The right to have value placed on the father’s emotional and physical contributions to his child’s life. Often focus is only on the father’s financial contributions.

• The right to play an equal role in parenting in cases of divorce. Physical placement of the child tends to default to the mother, while the father must prove that he is a good father in order to be awarded full custody.

Luis Galindez, a single father of two who received the 2013 Fatherhood Legacy Award, said, “After eight years of parenting my children on my own, I applied for full custody and was told that I would first have to take father’s classes.”

“Any department working with Rhode Island families needs to integrate father-inclusive standards with current practices,” said Glantz. “In the spirit of true collaboration and change, everyone needs to work together to create a father-competent state.”

Galindez also encouraged fathers like himself to stay involved in their children’s lives no matter how many barriers they find navigating the system. He said,

“I always tell my children:
Watch your step
So you don’t fall.
Watch your step
So you don’t get lost.
And my children answer,
‘No. You watch your step, Dad.
Remember, we are following you.’”