Opinion: Responsible Fatherhood Initiative in N.J. would strengthen child development


Being a father to my three children is the most important job I have ever had. At the same time, there are members of my family who grew up without a dad present; they understand firsthand the holes that fathers leave in their families lives when they are absent.

Many different factors might inhibit a father’s involvement in his child’s life. One factor could be a strain in the relationship with the childrens’ mother. Or perhaps the father didn’t have a positive male role model in his life when he was a child, or he might simply be somebody who hasn’t learned to take responsibility.

That is why my colleagues in the Assembly and I are trying to send a strong message about personal responsibility by sponsoring legislation that supports fathers who want to be there for their kids even while facing challenges in their own lives.

Fatherlessness is a growing crisis in our state and throughout the country. According to “The Father Factor: How Father Absence Affects our Youth,” 24 million, or 34 percent, of children under the age of 18 in our country live absent their biological father.

It is an issue that can form the foundation for many of the challenges faced by families in every population segment. When fathers aren’t around, young people are more likely to drop out of school, use drugs, be involved in the criminal justice system and become young parents themselves.

The legislation (A2410) I have authored would develop a Responsible Fatherhood Initiative in New Jersey to help strengthen the development of children throughout the state and promote the positive involvement of both parents in the lives of their children. The goal of this initiative is to promote positive interactions between fathers and their children and identify obstacles that impede or prevent that relationship.

Ultimately, this measure is a long-term investment in our children and our families, one that I hope will create more productive members of society who are less dependent on state resources down the road.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about half of all children spend some part of their life apart from one or both of their parents, and most often the parent who does not live with the child is his or her father. The laws governing parental relationships are the responsibility of the state, but the federal government does provide funding for, among other things, responsible fatherhood grants for activities such as counseling, mentoring, marriage education, enhancing relationship skills, parenting and fostering economic stability.

In fact, the Obama administration has also made the Responsible Fatherhood and Strong Communities initiative a key policy goal and priority. As part of this goal, the White House has partnered with a number of other federal departments to offer grants to help promote fatherhood in local communities by, among other things, creating access to employment opportunities, encouraging parental involvement in a child’s education, boosting housing opportunities and a host of other support programs to help create greater self-sufficiency.

Essentially, A2410 will enable us to tap into this available federal funding, as well as private foundation grants and existing state and community resources, in order to increase public awareness of the problems that are created when children grow up without the presence of responsible fathers, identify needs and priorities relating to fatherhood programs in the state and support the contributions each parent brings to the family unit.

Ultimately, we hope this measure will help many men out there realize that being a responsible father can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life and a source of tremendous pride. But more important, it can mean the difference in which very different paths their children choose to take.

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