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To reduce poverty, nation must help fathers stay connected to their children

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Studies show that children who grow up with both parents are more likely to finish school, become self-sufficient and have a healthier lifestyle than those from single-parent homes. A healthy and supportive environment is one of the most critical factors for a child. Greater involvement by fathers in their children's lives promotes positive physical, social, emotional and mental development.

As a nation, we must do more to help strengthen families by assisting men in staying connected to their families. This requires government leaders to embrace the importance of fathers in the lives of children and develop policies that strengthen the economic well-being of men and help strengthen their family ties.

Catholic Charities USA has launched a campaign to cut U.S. poverty in half by 2020. Building strong family connections - especially through strengthening programs and policies so that fathers are in the picture - is a vital part of the solution.

Our agencies across the country serve more than 7.4-million people a year and see first-hand the challenges faced by children who have only one parent and the needs of fathers who want to be more involved with their children.

Unfortunately, despite all of the information about the benefits of strong families with both parents involved, some of our nation's welfare and child support policies actually undermine the central role that both parents play in the stability and well-being of the family, community, and our society.

In fact, some of these programs portray fathers in a negative light, demeaning the role of fatherhood and equating it to simply an economic contribution.

Congress must adopt comprehensive policies that support low-income fathers such as more employment and training opportunities for low-income men, stronger support for marriage and two-parent families, improved health and mental health services, livable wages for working families, greater supports for fathers who are disconnected from their children due to incarceration, and reforms to the child support system to encourage the presence of fathers in their children's lives. In addition, social service organizations nationwide should review their programs and seek more ways that they can help low-income fathers become - and stay - engaged in the lives of their children.

One outstanding example of a comprehensive program that strives to improve the economic stability of fathers and promote the positive involvement of fathers with their children is the Fatherhood Initiative operated by Catholic Family Services in St. Louis.

The program provides permanent housing to men to prevent homelessness and job search and training to help them earn a living wage. Participants attend classes for several hours each day as part of a six-week program on parenting styles, money management, responsibility, and job skills development. Men receive a $50 per week stipend during the program, and those who complete it receive $200 to put toward their child support obligations.

There is little dispute about the importance of a mother and father to the well-being of children. There should be no dispute about the need to strengthen families and to find more ways to help fathers become more involved in the lives of their children.

Let's mark this Father's Day as the beginning of a new commitment in this country to finding more ways to help low-income fathers, strengthen families, and reduce many of the challenges that cause children to fall into poverty. We need to strengthen and advance programs and policies which promote the roles of mothers and fathers in the lives of their children.

Helping fathers stay connected to their children will not only result in a brighter future for their children but it will also secure the common good and build a stronger nation.

- - -

Father Larry Snyder is president of Catholic Charities USA, one of the nation's largest private networks of social service organizations with more than 1,500 local agencies and institutions providing assistance to 7.4 million people of all faiths a year.

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