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April 2012

Being a Good Dad Even When You’re a Teen

Too many children grow up without a father. Many of the City’s 30,000 teen dads grew up with only their mom, grandmother, or in foster care and don’t want their own kids to go through what they did. One teen interviewed by the Resilience Advocacy Project (RAP) said, “I’m not currently with my child’s mother . . . but we speak to each other on a daily basis. We still go out as a family because that’s the right thing to do. It helps my son realize that even though he doesn’t see me every single day, I am still around and I still love him.”

A 2005 Ford Foundation study showed that teenage dads are more likely than older, non-custodial fathers to support the mothers of their children and be there for their young sons and daughters. But often, their ability to parent effectively is stymied by systemic and educational barriers. A $40,000 grant is supporting RAP’s Teen Fatherhood Initiative to improve how the City helps teen fathers get academic and trade skills so they can support their kids.

How can I go back to work if I’ve never had a job?

The public assistance program of the City’s Human Resource Administration (HRA) is not set up for teen dads who don’t have a high-school diploma, job experience, or parenting skills, and yet are responsible for child support.

State law allows young recipients of public assistance to go to GED-prep classes and other vocational programs to fulfill their work requirement. But in practice, HRA has been pushing youth seeking public assistance into their Back to Work program, designed for adults. One 18-year-old participant says, “It was sort of like job training but the classes didn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s called Back to Work, but I have never had a job.”

“When young people fail to get a job in the first month of Back to Work (which most do, since they have little work experience, training, or education), they are placed in dead-end jobs. Not only do these jobs teach few skills, but they also prevent young people from getting an education and preparing for the future,” says Brooke Richie-Babbage, founder and director of RAP. “Back to Work is full time, so young dads can’t be enrolled in other, more enriching, programs.”

Giving teen dads the mic

As a result of a report issued by RAP and the Community Service Society, which interviewed out-of-school and out-of-work young people, the City Council has drafted three pieces of legislation that would require HRA to be more helpful and accountable to young dads. Trust funding will help RAP work with the City to develop these laws. To give voice to young fathers in this process, RAP will produce four videos to show to policymakers and the public. The grant will also help RAP run legal rights and self-advocacy workshops and create online resources to help young dads representing themselves in child support hearings.

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