ADVOCAP Takes Innovative Approach to Father & Family Stability

ADVOCAP is a private not-for-profit Community Action Agency (CAA) serving Fond du Lac, Green Lake, and Winnebago counties. In our quest to reduce poverty in these three counties, ADVOCAP operates many of the programs that other Wisconsin CAAs do including Head Start, Weatherization, Business Development, Work-n-Wheels, housing programs including Home Ownership and Homelessness programs, Fresh Start, volunteer programs such as RSVP and Foster Grandparents, food programs including TFAP and Senior Nutrition, and employment and training programs such as Skills Enhancement and WIA, and Refugee programs. I would like to highlight a newer program at ADVOCAP called the Father & Family Stability Project.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million or one out of three children in America live in a home where their biological father is not present. In addition, 50% of all Caucasian children and 75% of all African American children born in the last 20 years will likely live some portion of their childhood in a household without their father.¹ This phenomenon of father absence has a profound effect on poverty.

Children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor. In 2011, 12% of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to 44% of children in mother-only families.² In 2008, American poverty rates were 13.2% for the whole population and 19% for children, compared to 28.7% for female-headed households.³

In 2011, ADVOCAP was awarded a grant from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services—Administration for Children and Families to help impact this problem. The grant started September 30, 2011, and will end September 29, 2014.

Participants in ADVOCAP’s Father & Family Stability Project must be low income fathers who have at least one child under the age of six, are unemployed or underemployed, and are not significantly engaged with their children financially or emotionally as a parent.

This multi-faceted fatherhood project provides the training and support necessary for fathers to assume responsibility for their children and be engaged as a good parent in their lives, as well as strengthen their relationship with their children’s mother(s). One of the most significant parts of this program is helping these fathers to gain or improve employment and acquire the earnings and skills to achieve self-sufficiency.

Participants set short- and long-term goals which may include life skills, furthering their education, obtaining employment, becoming more involved in the community, enrolling in a parenting curriculum, a marriage readiness program or a relationship course for unwed parents. Workshops are also offered on financial literacy, teaching children to enjoy reading, positive parenting, grocery shopping tips, nutrition, teaching children about money, and stress management.

In just eight months, over 41 fathers in Fond du Lac, Green Lake and Winnebago counties enrolled in the program. Most learned of the program through word-of-mouth. By the end of the project cycle, ADVOCAP hopes to have helped change the lives of 75 fathers and their children.

To highlight the impact the program is having on fathers, I will conclude with a brief story of one of our current participants.

James, age 20, was unable to keep a job, had no means to support himself and was not actively involved in his daughter Laura’s life. Before enrolling in the program, James was considering terminating his parental rights to Laura but had some doubts that this was the best thing for her.

Within a few weeks of joining the program, James stated that being involved with other fathers and learning that his challenges were similar to many other parents helped confirm his decision to stay involved in his daughter’s life. James increased his visitation with Laura to the amount specified in the court agreement.

James soon entered school to become a certified nursing assistant and completed the course. He was hired at a care facility and is making three dollars more an hour than when he started. James moved into his own apartment and thoroughly enjoys having a home for Laura.

One month ago, James petitioned the court to increase his custody to 50%, which was granted. James said that he is now aware that he is a better influence on his daughter than ever before and he now sees the importance of a father’s role in a child’s life.

James’ next endeavor is to learn the finer points of parenting and how to prepare Laura for success in her life. The amount of progress James has made in six months has been so steady and so rapid that there is little in the way of his success on the path to becoming a more responsible father.

Please feel free to drop me a line with your thoughts on ADVOCAP, the Father & Family Stability Project or poverty in general. I can be reached at

Mike Bonertz
Executive Director

¹U.S. Census Bureau. America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2011. Table C9. Children by Presence and Type of Parent(s), Race, and Hispanic Origin. Washington D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.

²U.S. Census Bureau. America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2011. Table C8. Poverty Status, Food Stamp Receipt, and Public Assistance for Children Under 18 Years/1 by Selected Characteristics. Washington D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.

³Edin, K. & Kissane R. J. (2010). Poverty and the American family: a decade in review. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 460-479.

19 W. First St.
Fond du Lac, WI 54936
Phone: 920-922-7760
Fax: 920-922-7214

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