Butler County wants to help dads be more engaged with their kids

Butler County social service agencies are working to create a “father friendly” atmosphere to encourage deadbeat dads and other non-custodial parents to become more engaged in their children’s lives.

It is a critical effort for the children, according to Bill Morrison.

“When you talk about heroin and all the issues we’re dealing with, it’s essential we … try to diminish the amount of trauma we’re putting on the kids as a result. Not knowing who your father is is traumatic, it lessens the chance of someone being successful, which increases the chance they’ll become an addict as an adult.”

The Butler County Fatherhood Mobility Project seeks to get fathers and other non-custodial parents the help they need so they are making child support payments and visiting their children on a regular basis. Morrison is executive director of the agencies teaming up for the effort Job and Family Services, Children Services, Child Support Enforcement Agency and OhioMeansJobs.

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“I think we can benefit this population but most importantly the children,” Morrison told county commissioners. “Children need to know who their fathers are. It matters in child development that you know who your father is.

Narka Gray, the assistant director for operations and finance for CSEA, said they also are working with Warren County on this effort, which actually came out of an initiative to help inmates released from the Lebanon prison who have child support obligations.

She said it’s not just inmates who need to know CSEA isn’t the enemy, but all parents who don’t have custody of their children and parents of children who have been removed from their home by Children Services.

“There is a fear there because we’ve always been about ‘Give us your money or you’re going to jail’,” Gray said. “This is an effort to try to change that, be more helpful, allow more assistance and getting right-sized (child support) orders so fathers aren’t failing, therefore they get visitation with their children. It’s a huge cycle.”

Program partners, as part of the due diligence, put out a survey to parents to gauge the biggest needs at the moment. In all, 165 people took the survey about services for fathers.

Job skills and training and visitation and custody were the most frequently selected things people desired. Transportation, financial issues and addiction were the biggest barriers.

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Over the next six to nine months, a team of people will work on the plan, develop strategic and sustainability plans and launch an awareness campaign next June. They have applied for $10,000 in seed money from the Ohio Commission On Fatherhood to support the efforts.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said he is a little concerned the strong focus on fathers could be misconstrued.

“A lot of these (child support cases) are very contentious on one side or the other,” Rogers said. “We’re not trying to be on anybody’s side.”

Morrison said because they are adopting a state program, they can’t change the name, although it would be more accurately characterized as the non-custodial parent program.

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said she backs the plan.

“For us becoming part of the support for fathers it just really changes the paradigm,” Carpenter said. “It sounds like an excellent program to support.”