The Bronx Defenders’ Focus on Fathers project inspires discussion in New York City

The Bronx Defenders’ Focus on Fathers project is inspiring discussion in New York City about the unique challenges fathers face in family court proceedings that involve their children.

On February 6, 2014, Focus on Fathers coordinators, Mara Fleder, a Family Defense Attorney, and Keston Jones, a Parent Advocate, organized and participated on a Continuing Legal Education panel for the Bronx Family Court community entitled “Making the Difference: Working with Fathers in Family Court.” The Bronx Family Court’s Gender Fairness and Disproportionate Minority Representation committees co-sponsored the event. Other panelists included Abraham Jones, Executive Director of Claremont Neighborhood Center, William Henry, Family Engagement Specialist at the Center for the Development of Human Services, and Martin B, a single father and parent advocate with the Child Welfare Organizing Project. The panel focused on explaining why engaging fathers is critical to children’s welfare, how implicit and explicit systemic gender bias alienates fathers, the unique mental and emotional stress that fathers experience in family court, the resources and services available to fathers, and some suggested best practices for working with fathers.

Due to overwhelming positive response to the event, the Honorable Edwina Richardson-Mendelson, Administrative Judge of New York City Family Court, invited the panel to address all of the Child Protective Judges, Referees, Court Attorneys, and Clerical staff throughout New York City at their semi-annual meeting on March 4, 2014. Based on the closing remarks by Judge Richardson-Mendelson as well as feedback from other attendees, the event succeeded in sparking discussion and heightening awareness about these issues.