By: Mark Larson

Responsible Fatherhood Initiative Director

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assistance announced recently the availability of funding for four discretionary grant awards totaling $150 million for Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood grants.  Combined these grants represent a significant commitment to supporting fathers in their efforts to be responsible parents.

In past blog posts, I have talked about the importance of fully integrating a focus on family safety into our efforts to engage fathers.  When we do this successfully, our efforts to support fathers can also reflect our commitment to the safety and well-being of children and mothers.  We don’t want to support father’s involvement in their families when this comes at the expense of the safety of other family members.  This has been the concern that domestic violence advocates have had about some efforts to promote marriage and support fathers.

This is why I am excited to see that applicants for all four grants will be required to document efforts to build relationships with domestic violence experts and domestic violence service providers.  This requirement is a great chance to build collaboration between domestic violence service providers and those who work with fathers.  It is also a great opportunity to improve practices that ensure that safety is a core component of responsible fatherhood.

If you are thinking about applying for these new grants, I encourage you to start discussions with domestic violence partners early.  I have had the experience of being asked to participate in a grant after the grant was written and submitted.  While the invitation was appreciated, the timing was actually an obstacle to collaboration and made it difficult to take advantage of the creative thinking that occurs when we share values and ideas across disciplines.

The creative potential of the collaboration required by the new grant applications can be significant.  As part of a collaboration with the Connecticut Department of Social Services, we recently facilitated a discussion between representatives of fatherhood programs, victim advocates, child protection services, social welfare services, batterer intervention, judicial services and others.  We looked at responsible fatherhood services from many perspectives, including that of mothers and children while exploring what a model response to domestic violence by fatherhood programs would look like.  The conversation was rich and challenging.  It sparked many new ideas and practice suggestions about how to engage fathers and ensure the safety of moms and children. 

For more information about the grants, go to http://www.acf.hhs.gov/news/press/2011/fh_hm.html