On Father’s Day, those with great dads count their blessings. But for too many children, growing up in what the National Fatherhood Initiative calls “the father absence crisis in America,” the lack of a positive role male model will shadow their entire lives.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in the U.S—one out of three—live without their biological father in the home. And according to the fatherhood initiative, this absence “affects nearly all of the societal ills facing America today.”
Children who grow up without their biological father in the home are four times more likely to live in poverty and seven times more likely to become pregnant as teenagers. They’re also more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, commit crimes, and drop out of high school.
Most abused, abandoned and neglected children lack consistent, positive male role models in their lives – a fact of great concern to the Guardian ad Litem Program, whose volunteers act as the voices of children in dependency court – following their cases, advocating for their needs to be met and helping them find safe, loving homes.
“There’s a lot of teenage boys in the system that really need the encouragement to stay focused and become great citizens and great fathers themselves,” says Donny Frenette, regional counsel for GAL’s Central Florida region.
“They have no one to show them how a gentleman responds to frustration or anger or displays love or affection,” writes William Deschenes, a GAL volunteer in Mount Dora. “They haven’t experienced a dependable man, one who keeps his word and shows up when he says he will.”
Paul Crawford of Lake City, who retired from the Department of Corrections before going to work for Guardian ad Litem, says he’s seen too many families in which “their grand-dad’s been to prison, their dad’s been to prison – it seems natural. If you can break that cycle, that would be awesome.”
“Many of these kids are lost,” says GAL Executive Director Alan Abramowitz. He points to “the many conversations they’re not having – such as about sex or drugs. “A lot of them grow up with drugs in the home,” Abramowitz says. “They thought it was just a routine part of life.”
“They’ve never been shown any other way,” agrees Fred Hapner, director of the Guardian ad Litem Program in the 14th Judicial Circuit, based in Panama City. The Program tries to bring in male mentors as much as possible – teachers, coaches, youth leaders and youth pastors – “wherever we can find a positive male role model.”
The Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program has more than 11,000 volunteers – but just 2,249 are male.
And the men of Guardian ad Litem say male volunteers can have a huge impact just by teaching kids their own interests and hobbies – which can, in turn, keep them out of trouble.
“For someone’s who’s going down a wrong path,” says Frenette, “a small amount of positive influence from an adult invested in a teenager can pay huge dividends and affect someone’s life in a meaningful way.”
“You may not see the impact at that very moment,” Hapner says. “But it shows up later in life.”