Conference scheduled for Nov. 3
SIKESTON - "There are nearly 9,000 non-custodial fathers in the Bootheel," said Scott Porter, program manager for Missouri Bootheel Healthy Start's Fatherhood First program. "That's a lot of kids waking up everyday with their fathers not there with them.
"That's a huge, huge problem," said Porter. "Fathers set the boundaries for kids."
Children who live without their biological fathers on average are more likely to be poor; experience educational, health, emotional and psychological problems; and engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological mother and father.
Children in single-parent homes also experience significant increases in the risk of physical abuse and physical and emotional neglect.
"It's remarkable what happens to young man without a father to show him how to be a father, how to be a man," said Porter.
The ability for children to manipulate their mothers without interference from their father can also lead to abusive relationships. "They don't stay in relationships long because they've never seen a relationship," said Porter. "They start looking for love in the wrong places."
The tendency to fall into bad relationships is especially prevalent in girls who grow up without fathers, according to Porter. "Fathers need to be fathers to their daughters as well."
The impaired ability to find and form healthy relationships of their own is a major contributing factor in teen age pregnancy. "Mississippi County just passed St. Louis County for the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the state of Missouri," said Porter.
The Fatherhood First Advisory Committee, which is made up of local dads giving back to the committee, is "trying to create a major awareness in the community that fathers matter," said Porter.
Billboards on southbound Interstate 55 about a mile and half north of Sikeston, on the west side of Hayti and in Marston remind motorists to "Be there, listen, understand. Fathers matter" and radio and television public service announcements are set to run all year long.
Porter said in addition to the efforts of Fatherhood First Advisory Committee, the Fatherhood First program has benefited greatly from the work of program coordinators Keyth Blissett in Mississippi and New Madrid counties and Terry Robinson in Dunklin and Pemiscot counties and program assistant Shelly Moore who holds it all together. "It takes a team."
Since 1997, the Fatherhood First program has been spreading the message that "anyone can be a father, but it takes time to be dad," according to Porter, and has been dedicated "to helping dads spend more time with their children to help them develop some balance in life."
Porter explained that "kids don't spell love, m-o-n-e-y, they spell love t-i-m-e." Time fishing together, going to a movie, "or just sitting around talking," said Porter. The goal, he said, "is to get the father back involved with the child - not monetarily, but time-wise."
However, Porter said if a father is not spending the time with their children, they are usually not spending the money either. "Chances are that father is not going to pay child support on that child."
Fatherhood First helps by arranging events for fathers to spend time with their children. "We do a fishing clinic every year in June," said Porter. "There's no expense to the father."
Everything from poles, tackle and bait to a free barbecue lunch are provided. "What better way for a father and son or daughter to get together? No one out there but them and a fishing pole," said Porter.
Another annual June event is the Father's Day Workshop during which fathers are saluted in an essay contest. In addition to awards for the best essays, this event also includes a free meal and motivational speakers.
Fatherhood First has regular educational and training programs as well as the fun events.
The annual Fatherhood Conference, scheduled for Nov. 3 at the Malden Community Center this year, is a yearly opportunity for "an environment that's good for men to come together and learn about healthy fatherhood," according to Porter. "Our goal at that conference is to provide education and encouragement to men and help them develop healthy and positive relationships with their family."
The conference is free to the public and includes a meal and door prizes.
"There's a new push this year to help dads get good jobs so they can maintain their families," said Porter, who posed the possibility that many "deadbeat dads" might really be poor. "We're trying to help dads get better jobs and move up in their jobs," said Porter.
Fatherhood First follows up on fathers after they get their job with job coaching and mentoring, "to help them keep that job during rough times," said Porter. "Job retention is a major problem all over the nation."
Fatherhood First also holds programs for people who work in agencies that come into contact with fathers such as the Father Friendly Awareness workshop during which experts discuss how to better deal with fathers who come in their offices and how to help the agencies more accustomed to working with women become more friendly to fathers seeking the same types of services.
For more information on the Fatherhood First program in Scott, Mississippi, New Madrid, Dunklin and Pemiscot counties, contact Porter at 888-317-4949.