For 16 years, the Fathers' Support Center of St. Louis has helped fathers take a more active role in their children’s lives. The idea is to help children by helping fathers, said CEO Halbert Sullivan.
“When one of the parents is missing, the children think it’s their fault. And they study hard about that, and therefore will come up with some psychological and emotional concerns,” said Sullivan. “When one parent is missing, children are going to act out. Children need the attention of both parents….that single mom, as great as she may be, she cannot do the dual role of being a father.”
According to the Fathers' Support Center, children who have absent fathers are 10 times more likely to use drugs, 20 times more likely to go to prison and nine times more likely to drop out of high school.
In a year-long program jump-started by a six week intensive “boot camp,” the Fathers' Support Center uses behavior modification therapy to help fathers build strong relationships with their children.
“We have one of the most successful fatherhood projects in the nation, and that’s not just coming from me. We are involved in research projects where the Department of Health and Human Services is trying to replicate that success. And I think what brings about the success is our process. We have a very structured program. We also believe that you can teach an old dog new tricks. We’ve heard that adage that you can’t, but you can,” said Sullivan.
The program also helps fathers find work, because not having an income can stop fathers from connecting with their children.
Sullivan put it this way: “Our guys are not deadbeat. They’re dead broke.”
Another hurdle absent fathers have to leap is convincing the mother of their children to give them a second chance at being part of their children’s lives, said Fathers' Support Center social worker Barbara Graham.
“One of the biggest challenges I’ve noticed with the dads is trying to reconnect with the children, but the mothers are hesitant or resistant,” said Graham.
Fathers' Support Center hosts its annual dinner "A Toast to Fathers" on Thursday, June 12. At the dinner Marvin Davis will be honored as the 2014 Father of the Year. More information about the center or the dinner is available at (314) 333-4170 or on the Fathers' Support Center website.