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Assembly Panel Approves Singleton, Watson Coleman, Wagner Bill to Strengthen New Jersey Families by Increasing Parental Involvement

Legislation Would Establish “Responsible Fatherhood Initiative”

An Assembly panel on Thursday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Troy Singleton, Bonnie Watson Coleman and Connie Wagner to develop a Responsible Fatherhood Initiative in New Jersey geared towards strengthening the development of children throughout the state by promoting the positive involvement of both parents in the lives of their children.

“There are many different factors that might inhibit a father’s involvement in their children’s life,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “Whether it’s a strain in the relationship with a child’s mother, somebody who never had a positive male role model in their life as a child, or simply somebody who hasn’t learned to take responsibility, the goal of this initiative is to promote positive interactions between fathers and their children and identify obstacles that impede or prevent their involvement in the lives of their children.

The bill (A-2410) would establish a 21-member New Jersey Council on Responsible Fatherhood in the Department of Children and Families in order to promote the participation of both parents in the lives of their children, identify needs and priorities relating to fatherhood programs in the state, and support the contributions each parent brings to the family unit.

“This measure would capitalize on our existing resources to increase public awareness of how children are impacted when they’re raised without the presence of responsible fathers,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Our goal is to create strategies and initiatives to encourage the responsible participation of fathers in their children’s lives to help eliminate some of the obstacles in their development.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about half of all children spend some part of their life apart from one or both of their parents, and most often the parent who does not live with the child is the father. The laws governing parental relationships are the responsibility of the state, but the federal government does provide funding for, among other things, responsible fatherhood grants for activities such as counseling, mentoring, marriage education, enhancing relationship skills, parenting, and fostering economic stability.

“There are countless factors that may affect a father’s ability or willingness to participate in their child’s life,” said Wagner (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Some, admittedly, may never change no matter how much support is offered. But for others, especially those who grew up without a positive male role model in their life, things like counseling and mentoring can make all the difference and hopefully produce happier, more well-adjusted children.”

To that end, the bill directs the council to apply for available grant money from the federal government, private foundations, or other sources, which may be available for programs related to responsible fatherhood and, in turn, provide grants to community-based organizations within New Jersey to establish, expand, or improve fatherhood programs This would be done through the establishment of the “Responsible Fatherhood Fund” in the Department of the Treasury as a non-lapsing, revolving fund, which would be supported by these grants and allocated to the council to carry out the purposes of the bill.

The bill requires the council to: direct the development and implementation of a Responsible Fatherhood Initiative; develop a comprehensive plan that identifies the needs and priorities relating to fatherhood programs in the state and promotes the positive involvement of fathers in their children’s lives; serve as an information and resource center for data and information on fatherhood programs; review the programs, policies, and initiatives of various state departments and community-based organizations that concern responsible fatherhood, and make recommendations to the departments and organizations on ways to better coordinate and improve the effectiveness of their programs, policies and initiatives.

Under the bill, the council would also be required to convene an annual statewide symposium to discuss issues relating to fatherhood and the importance of the participation of both parents in the lives of children, and to develop strategies to encourage fathers to become more responsible parents.

The initiative would be geared toward children whose families have or are receiving public assistance but shall not exclude any other population of children who may benefit from the programs or services offered by the initiative. The initiative shall be responsible for the development of: a public awareness campaign; an information and support network for fathers trying to foster relationships with their children; and plans to identify and promote methods that reduce the negative outcomes experienced by children affected by divorce, legal separation, and custody and visitation disputes.

The membership of the council would consist of: two members each from the Senate and the General Assembly, including one member from each political party; the Commissioners of Children and Families, Corrections, Education, Human Services, Labor and Workforce Development, and the Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, or their designees, who shall serve ex officio; seven public members appointed by the Governor, and four public members, two with experience in working with fatherhood programs who shall be appointed by the President of the Senate and two of whom are fathers who have graduated from fatherhood programs who shall be appointed by the Speaker of the General Assembly.

Finally, the bill requires the council to report to the Governor and the Legislature, annually, on the activities of the council and its findings and recommendations regarding the coordination and effectiveness of State programs, policies, and initiatives concerning responsible fatherhood.

The bill was unanimously approved by the Assembly Women and Children Committee and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.