“This [program] is definitely helpful for the community, especially fathers who often have the cards stacked against them.” — Hubert, Focus on Fathers client
Our clients who are fathers face particularly daunting barriers to maintaining relationships with their children. Many grew up not knowing their own fathers. Most are poor, unstably housed, marginally employed, and frequently arrested for minor offenses arising from these interrelated problems. Fifty-eight percent of incarcerated men have children under the age of 18 and are at risk of having their parental rights permanently terminated even if there are no allegations that they have abused or neglected their children. Many are unaware how to preserve their parental rights while incarcerated or how to take advantage of family visiting programs in correctional facilities. Upon re-entering society, fathers often do not know how to reconnect with their children.
These numerous legal and societal barriers prevent fathers from maintaining the crucial connection with their children. Research shows that children benefit greatly from contact with their fathers and that men who become more involved in their children’s lives are less likely to commit criminal offenses. Our commitment to community-based, client-centered advocacy requires that we work to ensure that our clients’ ties to their children are not needlessly disrupted.
The Bronx Defenders Focus on Fathers program, started in the fall of 2013, aims to provide specialized, comprehensive family legal services for fathers in family court proceedings involving their children. Since its inception, the Focus on Fathers program has served over 150 fathers. The program also provides support and resources to fathers who are incarcerated, and advocacy on behalf of those who are re-entering society after a period of incarceration. We provide legal assistance to our clients who are filing for visitation, custody and paternity, and help them address issues regarding child support. Additionally, we connect our clients to supportive community-based resources that provide insight, knowledge, and emotional support to empower them to have meaningful relationships with their children. Finally, Focus on Fathers seeks to enhance community awareness regarding the societal and systemic issues affecting fathers and ways to overcome them through networking, outreach, and trainings.