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Fatherhood initiative projected as national model

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Fatherhood Initiative Partnership is now an official member of the community.

Members of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, social service groups, as well as community movers and shakers, welcomed the group during a Responsible Fatherhood Summit and ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday.

"[The fatherhood project] helps us understand our role even clearer," said Mario Kimball, CCFIP chair. He said the partnership would help Clayton County service groups become more father-friendly and give men seeking help more options.

The initiative has the support of nationally recognized experts Charles Lee-Johnson, head of the National Family Life and Education Center, and Cozell Harris, National Fatherhood consultant for the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

"I speak for the White House [on issues of parenthood] and I haven't seen something like this," said Lee-Johnson. "Clayton County can serve as a model for the nation as to how you organize communities to change communities."

Lee-Johnson said the program will unite existing programs in Clayton County aimed at helping families and make them more efficient.

"That's how change happens," he said. "Drug violence is a surface issue. Gang involvement is a surface issue. Kids run toward those things because of the problems in their families."

Harris said the program is a "map" for fathers seeking to change their lives and the most affective strategy for strengthening families.

"One of the most promising strategies for helping children is helping fathers stay involved in their lives," said Harris. "When fathers are actively engaged in their children's lives, children do better developmentally, socially, and financially."

The initiative will focus on employment, anger management, positive parenting techniques, the qualities of a man, and breaking the chain of absentee fathers in the county, where research shows nearly 70 percent of households are headed by single mothers.

"One of the fundamental problems in the education system is long-distance parenting, even if they live down the street," said Pat Will, membership coordinator for the Chamber of Commerce. "If we can make them more involved in their [children's] lives, it will have a positive impact in the education system and the community at large."

Shauna Hutchins, a social services supervisor with the Department of Family and Children Services, said the program will help decrease the number of children in the county who will have to go into foster care.

"It's helping us because we can give the kids another option," said Hutchins. "We do a good job of protecting kids, but we don't have all the resources to make fathers great fathers. If we can get to those dads and improve their lives, the kids lives will be much better ... we know the kids are protected when they are with their fathers, because they have been connected to these services."

In February, the CCFIP will offer a full curriculum of programs aimed at stemming absentee fatherhood in Clayton County, a problem which many of the organizations present believe is the root to many of the issues facing the county.

Representatives from the Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services, Head Start, Extension Office, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), and Calvary Refuge Center were present to show their support.

CCFIP will have on open house at the Virginia Burton Gray Recreation Center in Riverdale on Jan. 26, from 5:30 - 9:30 p.m., and will begin offering training sessions on Feb. 7.