When Wallace McLaughlin, Ph.D., recounts the impetus for opening Fathers and Families Center, he describes a group of social workers speaking about burial arrangements with a mother who recently lost her child. All the while, a young father stood in the corner, almost invisible. After this incident and through the leadership of Sarah Meadows, then Director of the Social Work Department, it became clear that some type of local resource program was necessary to help support fathers, and thus strengthen families and children. Dr. McLaughlin, who currently serves as the organization’s President/CEO, says, “At the end of the day, we’re trying to improve the life options for children by making fathers self-sufficient. By helping them move towards self-sufficiency, we’re also trying to pull them away from the lure and the dangers of the streets, to let them see other options and opportunities and to offer that support and modeling and mentoring of what dads are supposed to do and look like.”
One of the Center’s main programs, “Strong Fathers, Strong Families,” is a three-week intensive course where fathers are taught about parenting, child development, child support, relationships, financial literacy, job readiness, anger and conflict resolution, and communication, along with a host of other things. Dr. McLaughlin says, “We are hoping in that three weeks to really try to give them everything we can holistically to help them assess and access responsible fathering.” Many of the young men that go through the program grew up without any strong models of fatherhood and find themselves struggling to juggle the many responsibilities that being a father brings. Dr. McLaughlin says, “We realized that fathers—especially teen fathers—were not dead beat; they were dead broke.”
Dr. McLaughlin sees the challenges facing these young men as three-fold. First, he says, “You can’t get a good job without completing your education.” Second, it’s important to find meaningful and sustainable employment. And third, mental health issues must be addressed. Ultimately, he says, “We’re trying to reduce all of the personal, social, systemic barriers that make it difficult for those fathers who really want step up to the plate.”
Part of eliminating these barriers includes helping these young men find legal assistance for things like child support and expungement, which creates a natural partnership with the Legal Clinic. Dr. McLaughlin believes that helping these men to stabilize their legal troubles, financial matters, and relationships is critical to the health and well-being of the community at large. He says, “There has to be a balanced conversation between arresting and investing.” A man of faith and a pastor, Dr. McLaughlin recognizes that such transformation doesn’t take place overnight. “Sometimes the light doesn’t go off until later,” he says. “If we helped one, then we made the world a better place, so I’m not discouraged and I’m not frustrated.”
To learn more about Fathers and Families Center and the various programs they offer, please visit their website.