Florida is preparing to launch mentoring and outreach programs aimed at boosting parenting skills for fathers and, in turn, helping at-risk youth as part of a $70 million initiative.
The initiative was included in a new law (HB 7065) unanimously approved this year by the Legislative Assembly and signed by Governor Ron DeSantis in April. Some state agency heads appeared at a press conference on Tuesday to tout the efforts, which DeSantis said comes as the country faces a “fatherhood crisis.”
A significant portion of the money will go towards expanding mentorship programs for young people and funding grants designed to help fathers.
Juvenile Justice Department Secretary Eric Hall said providing fathers with resources and improving youth outcomes go hand-in-hand, in part because about half of the children who interact with Hall’s department come from of single-parent households.
“Unfortunately, at the Department of Juvenile Justice, we see too many of our young people coming from single-parent homes,” Hall told reporters. “What we’re looking at is how do you engage fathers who have the ability to be more engaged than they are, or in some cases, how do you get male role models in the absence of a father?”
Hall said increasing education opportunities is also a big part of the measure, which provides the Department of Juvenile Justice with $3.7 million to help support access to post-secondary education.
“The one thing we know is that if we can bridge the academic gaps and put them on the path to post-secondary education and training and get a degree that helps them achieve their goals and dreams, it’s This is how we change their life trajectory and their families,” Hall said.
Some of the grants funded by the act will be aimed at helping fathers find jobs and pay child support, in what Hall described as a “holistic” approach to addressing bigger issues.
Department of Economic Opportunity Secretary Dane Eagle said his agency would help implement parts of the measure, including working with CareerSource Florida and local programs to help non-custodial parents.
“Let’s help non-custodial parents become better fathers and be present. Help them find gainful employment, help them with child support so they can be better fathers and be there,” Eagle said.
Officials described the initiative as requiring extensive collaboration among state agencies. But local organizations will largely determine whether the initiative has an impact.
Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Ricky Dixon stressed the importance of working with local groups to help the thousands of fathers returning home after being incarcerated.
“We release about 8,000 people a year who are fathers,” he said. “So it’s us working to provide the resources and partnering with local communities and faith-based and civic organizations to provide the support structures we need.”
The state Department of Health, meanwhile, is tasked by law with facilitating “engagement activities” for fathers, “such as providing one-on-one support to fathers to increase participation in services that enhance the well-being of the family and the child”.