Dr. William C. Bell Congressional testimony: Celebrating Father and Families: Federal Support for Responsible Fatherhood
In June 2019, Casey Family Programs President and CEO Dr. William C. Bell testified before the Worker and Family Support subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means. The purpose of Dr. Bell’s remarks was to emphasize the critical importance, backed by both data and experience, of the role of fathers in child well-being. He went on to stress that the ways funds were to be allocated, as outlined in the Families First Prevention Services Act, could very well restrict funding for many effective programs designed to engage fathers of children involved in the child welfare system, and that these restrictions would likely cause many such programs to be discontinued. Dr. Bell stressed that for the long-term health of families and communities, it is critical that we rethink how we develop and design programs aimed at fathers, and that they be given much broader support.
Watch Dr. Bell’s remarks here (Dr. Bell appears at about the 1:10:10 mark):
Good afternoon Chairman Davis, Ranking Member Walorski, and members of the Committee.
For the past 53 years, Casey Family Programs has been analyzing, developing, and informing best practices in child welfare and child well being. We partner with child welfare agencies, community residents, business leaders, government leaders, tribal nations, non-profit organizations, and philanthropic organizations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Casey works to support practices and policies that increase the safety and success of children and strengthen the resilience of families.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here today to talk about the critical role that fathers play in the lives of their children.
Casey Family Programs has learned from research and from providing direct services for over five decades that most children grow up have better outcomes in life when they are nurtured and cared for by their own families. We have also learned that fathers and their involvement are critical in achieving this result. Fathers have a significant role to play in children’s physical, emotional, and social development, and they are essential partners in the prevention of child abuse, neglect, and foster care placements. We know from our work, from research, but most importantly, from talking with youth directly that higher education, achievement, higher self-esteem, decreased acting-out behavior, and higher levels of self-control in children have all been correlated to having a highly engaged and involved father.
Unfortunately, child-serving systems often discount the importance of a father’s involvement in the lives of their children. Too often, many government systems focus on payment of child support as the non-custodial father’s only critical responsibility and method of connection to the support in rearing their children. While financial support is important, data shows that outcomes for children improve, not by virtue of financial support alone, but also through high quality relationships and safe and healthy interactions between fathers and children. Even though initiatives and investments designed to build protective factors among children have grown, father-specific programs and resources have continued to be developed at the margins, if at all.
While there are a number of promising fatherhood engagement programs that currently exist, and you’ve heard about a number of them here today, we believe that by using the tools provided by Congress in the Family First Prevention Services Act, states and tribes have an incredible opportunity to expand and develop more of the types of programs that strengthen the connection between fathers and their children. I want to thank the committee for your leadership and for focusing attention on the opportunities before us to truly transform how we serve and support families by engaging fathers and the paternal extended family.
However, if we are to take full advantage of the opportunity provided by Family First, especially for fathers who do not reside in the home with their children, we must expand the way that we conceptualize the programs that we design. Many programs, such as licensed residential family-based treatment facilities that address the needs of substance-affected parents without requiring their children to be removed, are designed only for mothers and their children, and not fathers.
Approximately one month ago, Casey Family Programs convened 17 states who are eager and interested in accessing the prevention dollars provided in Family First. There is great enthusiasm and energy about Family First in tribes and in states across this nation. However, despite this enthusiasm, states and tribes have voiced concerns about barriers that they see to the successful and timely implementation of Family First. We continue to hear frustration expressed with the timeliness, communication, and dissemination of information regarding the evidence-based programs requirement and the establishment of the Family First Clearinghouse.
For states to access the Federal Prevention Funds, the law requires that they spend at least 50 percent of those funds on well-supported programs. States are concerned that the number of program options included in the federally created evidence-based clearinghouse may be too limited. In addition, specialized programs like fatherhood programs that have demonstrated results but may not yet be categorized as well supported programs – I think that’s what my colleague was just speaking to – may be limited in use due to this requirement.
The systems transformation we seek will take time and resources, while state and tribes continue the critical work of working with children and families. States and tribes need our help. They need your help and support because they are all in varying places of development, facing varying challenges around workforce, training, availability of qualified service providers, and the resources needed to build their capacity.
Casey Family Programs commends this committee for bringing attention to the critical importance of engaging fathers in the lives of children, especially children involved in the child welfare system.
There’s much more that I have to say, but in the interests of time, there’s plenty in the written testimony that I’ve provided, and I’d be happy to answer any questions that you might have.