The federal government is beginning to recognize how important fathers are to children after years of focusing almost exclusively on mothers. Government-funded programs to promote marriage for at-risk families now include money for paternal involvement, too, Cowan said. Social welfare programs have been told to include fathers in case management. The Obama, Bush and Clinton administrations all funded healthy-marriage initiatives. Cowan called attempts to include fathers “islands of hope,” but concedes they’re “fighting decades of prejudice.”
The odds are still stacked against fathers in many government and nonprofit agencies designed to assist families, he said. Often, men’s names are not included on case files, even when parents are married.
Simply improving the job market for young adults, especially men, would do wonders to stabilize families — particularly those just starting out, Cherlin said. Experts have been surprised by the real drop in divorce among the college-educated, who still can get good jobs. He said young people need more job training opportunities and apprenticeships, especially if they’re not college-bound. Making sure tax policy doesn’t discourage marriage and providing a modest earned income tax credit for disadvantaged childless young adults would also encourage formation of stable relationships, he added.
Stable relationships are something both Ott and Burgos long for, and each can picture one in his mind. But both admit to feeling somewhat unsure about how to make it happen in real life.
Burgos said he had some good teachers and a foster dad he liked a lot, but no confidants after his “big brother” Jacob moved away. “I don’t really have deep emotional conversations with anybody,” he admits.
Ott recently married and hopes to have children and a stable family life. Burned more than once by the choices adults made when he was young, he keeps one eye on the past. It’s a path he doesn’t intend to travel.
“I’ve never had a family,” Ott said. “I know what I’m not going to do.”
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