Davis Opening Statement at Worker and Family Support Subcommittee Hearing on Celebrating Fathers and Families: Federal Support for Responsible Fatherhood
(As prepared for delivery)
No matter how you cut it, there are a lot of vulnerable children in our society. There are children whose parents do not live together and who have substantially-strained relationships. There are children who are parentless; children whose parents struggle with mental health challenges and addition; children who lost one or both parents to incarceration; and children who cannot live safely with their parents.
These children had no say in the difficulties in their families, and we must do all we can to assist these families because that is what is best for the children.
Within our Subcommittee, we have many programs that can help both parents, but understandably tend to focus on the role of mothers, such as home visiting and TANF. We also have within our jurisdiction the Responsible Fatherhood grants, which recognize and support the critical role fathers play in family well-being. And we recently enacted the bipartisan Family First Prevention Services Act, which provides resources to strengthen parenting wherever that is needed.
Research shows that a supportive and involved father strengthens a child’s emotional, physical, intellectual, and behavioral development – even if the father does not live in the same household as his child.
I am pleased to welcome Deputy Warden Duffield from the Sheridan Correctional Facility in Illinois as a witness. For about 5 years, I have worked with former Sheridan Warden Nikki Robinson, current Warden David Gomez, and the Illinois Department of Corrections to bring busloads of children to see their incarcerated fathers for Father’s Day. This program reconnects these individual families and keeps fathers present in their children’s lives even though the fathers are away. It supports the most fundamental relationship we have – between a parent and child. You see the joy of the children and dads spending time together, playing games and hugging. Also, you see the sadness as the time ends, when conversations slow and children ask: “Daddy, do you have to go? Can’t you stay?” Or “Daddy, can you come home with us?” One year, we had a father who got so upset because his son was not on the bus, only to realize that he didn’t recognize his son since it had been so long since he had seen him.
I am grateful to the Sheridan staff for all they do to make these visits so special and meaningful for the children and families. You see, they have to change the visitation room set up to be more developmentally friendly to the children. Further, outside visitors cannot bring anything into the prison. So the Warden and his staff personally pay for the meals, the decorations, the games and the coloring books and they volunteer their time to make it special. On the screen right now is a picture from our visit two weekends ago and now I am going to show a short video from our recent visit.
We know that well-designed fatherhood programs increase parenting skills, improve relationships between parents and children and between co-parents, and generate positive outcomes for fathers and their children. I want to work across the aisle to expand these Responsible Fatherhood programs to that help strengthen families and support vulnerable children. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about how we can do just that.