About 10 years ago, local businessman Gaillard Teague was sitting in a meeting of the Men of St. Joseph when he heard a statistic he couldn’t get out of his head for months.
“Something like 85 percent of all those in jail come from a fatherless family. It’s just a ‘wow!’ kind of a number, and it stayed with me for about a year,” Teague said. “I wanted to do something. I wasn’t sure what exactly, but I wanted to start a campaign highlighting the importance of being a father.”
What grew out of Teague’s concern was the “Be a Real Dad” campaign, which is responsible for the billboards bearing a similar slogan that have been up locally for about five years. The concept is simple: Be a Real Dad encourages fathers to be present in their children’s lives.
Speaking to Lagniappe, Teague said he intends to keep the billboards for at least three more years, but the same message is mirrored on the website he launched a few years ago: bearealdad.com.
It’s worth noting Teague’s 85 percent figure comes from a pretty old study from the Department of Justice (DOJ) that found a lot of staggering statistics about the impact growing up in fatherless or single-parent homes have on children — such as elevated risks of suicide, juvenile delinquency and poverty.
According to a more recent DOJ study, around 56 percent of inmates surveyed in local jails in 2002 said they grew up in a “non-two-parent household,” most of them with single mothers. An academic study from 2004 further determined, even when controlling for factors like family income and education, children in father-absent households were more than twice as likely to wind up incarcerated.
Regardless of the exact percentages, those who work in juvenile detention, the judicial system or in local jails typically have no shortage of stories about teenagers from fatherless homes. When discussing crime stats, local law enforcement officials have often referred to this as the “breakdown of the family.”
“Hands down … that is a contributing factor,” Metro Jail Warden Trey Oliver said when asked about inmates from single-parent homes. “As I like to tell people, we have folks that come from dysfunctional homes in every zip code, but the two common denominators we see the most among inmates are dropping out of school and the lack of a father figure or a structured home environment in their lives.”
That’s one of the reasons Oliver has been so supportive of the Mobile County Health Department’s Fatherhood Initiative, which works with fathers — and mothers — on developing skills and finding the resources that can help them better serve as a positive influence in their children’s lives.
Curtis Graves, the local face of the Fatherhood Initiative and a commander with the Mobile Police Department (MPD), recently said the program helps put many fathers and mothers in Mobile on a path toward “healthy parenting, emotional and physical wellness and economic stability” every year. Officials have said that can have a ripple effect within a family and from one generation to the next.
Because of the connection to law enforcement, the Fatherhood Initiative works with low-security inmates in Metro Jail and has also helped with second-chance programs initiated by MPD. During the 2018 grant cycle alone, 425 fathers and 185 mothers participated in the program in some capacity.
Last week, the program received a $150,000 grant from the Alabama Children’s Trust Fund, which provides annual funding to community-based programs across the state that help prevent child abuse and neglect before it occurs. Those dollars will help the Fatherhood Initiative reach more families in 2020.
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