Florida fatherhood initiative includes multimillion-dollar ad campaign, ex-convict assistance
Ron DeSantis signs a major fatherhood initiative.

DeSantis signing 4.11.22
More than $83M has been cleared for spending through 2026.

A statewide initiative to improve fatherhood rates and increase male mentorship of at-risk kids is now underway, and there’s much more to come, according to the state agency and organizations leading the effort.

On Tuesday, the House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee received an update on programs created under a 2022 measure, HB 7065, that Gov. Ron DeSantis said is meant to address a national “fatherhood crisis.”

More than $83 million has been cleared for spending through 2026. Of that, $5 million remains uncommitted and will fund programs in lesser-served areas of the state, said Jess Tharp, assistant secretary of community services for the Department of Children (DCF).

The largest chunk, $26.6 million, is set aside for a pro-fatherhood ad and informational campaign by Family First, a Tampa nonprofit that will use part of the funding for technical assistance and to track the performance of other grant recipients.

The pending ad campaign, “Father First,” is required to generate at least 16.6 million marketing impressions per month. DCF anticipates the campaign’s website, which launches next month, will receive 5,000 monthly hits.

Eighteen grantees will split $12.5 million for an at-risk boys’ mentorship program for which little information was provided Tuesday. Ten other grantees will divvy up $16.3 million for responsible fatherhood education.

Another $23 million is earmarked for nine awardees to develop programming to address the “comprehensive needs of fathers.” Much of the focus will be on assisting formerly incarcerated fathers navigate through state processes and receive services to better reintegrate into their communities.

One such program, now in development by Jacksonville-based Operation New Hope, aims to help 17,000 recently released or soon-to-be-released convicts from 30 facilities across the state.

In the Panhandle, NWF Health Network is developing a peer apprenticeship program with the U.S. Department of Labor and Florida Department of Education.

The goal, said George Baston, the organization’s behavioral health and child protection manager, is to provide prisoners with paraprofessional employment following a 3,000-hour training, mentorship and support program.

Another by Neighbor to Family, a nationally accredited foster care nonprofit headquartered in Daytona Beach, involves “fatherhood engagement specialists” who can empathetically help fathers complete court-ordered requirements.

Many fathers give up working on case plans, which effectively ends any hope they may have of reunifying with their children, said Heather Monteath, the nonprofit’s Executive Director.

“That’s where we come in,” she said. “A case-management organization will send us a referral and say, ‘Hey, we have this dad. He’s not working with us.’ And that’s when our fatherhood engagement specialist comes in and tries to engage with that dad.”

Reginald Colston, an ex-probation and case officer now working as a Neighbor to Family fatherhood engagement specialist, said the court system frequently discourages legally troubled men. Many want to reconnect with their children, he said, but grow dispirited because of how arduous closing their cases can sometimes be or by misconceptions they may have, including that a criminal record is prohibitive.

“These fathers just don’t know, and they’re scared to talk to these case managers,” he said. “I say, ‘What I’m here to do is help you see your kids and help you through this process.’”

HB 7065, which former House Speaker Chris Sprowls spearheaded during the 2022 Legislative Session, was intended to counteract a troubling divide in the outcomes of children with and without fathers. It passed both chambers unanimously.

At the time, an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the National Fatherhood Initiative found that 18.4 million children in the U.S. — one-fourth of the total — live without a biological, step or adoptive father in the home.

That ratio extends to Florida, where Tharp said approximately 24% of children live in an absent-father household and more than 90% who are placed in the state’s child welfare system — approximately 10,240 — come from a single-parent home.

Fatherless youth, she continued, are at increased risk of homelessness, dropping out of school and suicide. Conversely, children with involved fathers show higher levels of social competence and self-esteem, better peer relationships and educational performance, have more advanced language skills and are better able to control their emotions.

“Even when fathers do not live with their children 24/7, research suggests that an involved and present father can lead to some of the same outcomes and avoid the pitfalls of a completely absent father,” she said.

Several members of the Committee praised the ongoing work while offering recommendations.

Miami Rep. Vicki Lopez, who has served in state-appointed roles specializing in prison reentry and justice reform, noted that many men who are “justice-involved” don’t receive prison sentences but still have difficulties with custody or visitation rights.

She asked whether the prisoner-focused programs could be expanded to include those men. Tharp said it could, due to the authorizing legislation’s intentionally loose language.

Clearwater Rep. Kimberly Berfield expressed concern that the relatively short lifespan of the programs will result in little usable long-term information upon which to build improved initiatives.

Tharp admitted that is a problem with many grant programs.

“In order to have that longitudinal data, you have to have the consent of the individual who’s a part of that program,” she said.

Tampa Rep. Traci Koster, a family law lawyer, asked about the prospect of expanding the measure’s educational component to include young women.

“Some of us women may think that we are superior in terms of child-rearing, and I think the studies have shown more recently that that’s not really the case. Both moms and dads play a really important role,” she said.

Tharp said that, presently, the fatherhood program does not include a women-focused aspect “except for where we are trying to educate dads on effective co-parenting methods.” However, such curricula “is definitely on the table” as programs develop further.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


  • PeterH

    September 19, 2023 at 6:40 pm

    A program like this while necessary….. it is out of the realm of today’s Republican narrative. A program like this is a perfect and typical revenue vehicle for grifting and misappropriation of funds.

    As such, the program should institute an independent auditor and publish their findings in widely read public forum.

  • Earl Pitts "Political Genious" American

    September 19, 2023 at 8:05 pm

    Good evening America,
    We must take great care not to allow any Dook 4 Brains Lefty’s to get any management positions in this initative whatsoever. If they ever do they will divert all the funding to killing as many precious childern as possable.
    True Word,
    Earl Pitts American

  • Rick Whitaker

    September 19, 2023 at 9:23 pm

    i bet some kind of christian indoctrination is mixed in with those programs, it usually is. now that will drive cons away quick. so-called rehab programs include that christian indoctrination, and that turns off open-minded people big time

  • Buzzed

    September 20, 2023 at 2:22 am

    You can bet this is racist and Christian indoctrination and preaching. They speak of “research” like they do when taking about COVID vaccines and we know they have lied about that research. You can bet this is shade for more of the authoritarian ways

  • Edward Freeman

    September 20, 2023 at 3:58 am

    This could be a good program and the need is certainly large. However, considering the gang of crooks and Nazis that currently run Florida it will probably turn out to be just another vehicle to shovel boatloads of tax dollars into the pockets of their friends and relatives.

  • Sonja Fitch

    September 20, 2023 at 5:50 am

    “Fatherhood “ give me a break. Until the Abortion PUNISHES men , this is a good idea! BUT the root problem
    Ain’t solved. !

    • KT Downs

      September 20, 2023 at 12:29 pm

      What is your point?? What does abortion have to do with families not being complete and men getting some focus as the women have been getting for years?
      How can abortion punish men?? Especially with the idea that women want that choice of abortion. Women say, “My body My Choice.”

      I am curious what is the root problem?? And to what??

      The root in my eyes is to focus on getting families back together and get them healthy. Remove the war of sexes. This will remove the need for government involvement.

  • Richard Russell

    September 21, 2023 at 11:11 am

    STOP ALL WELFARE AND PROSECUTE ALL CRIMES. INSTITUTE WORKFARE (MUST VERIFY APPLICANT IS ACTIVELY PURSUING ANY AVAILABLE EMPLOYMENT IN ORDER TO RECEIVE). Any conviction of a criminal act will disqualify a person from receiving workfare until released from incarceration. For the unrestrained males who impregnate women for sport, they should sterilized.

    • Rick Whitaker

      September 21, 2023 at 3:54 pm

      your comment is ludicrous and ill-logical. you are obviously a major hater, so regular people discount what nazi like you rant. in desantistan you may think your point of view is acceptable, but it’s not, even in the worst state in the country where you exist. of course you have no clue what i’m saying. if we prosecute all crimes, there would not be many gop politicians out of jail. and who would build and staff the hundreds of new prisons that would have to be built. see how ludicrous that sounds. guys like you love to hate.

Comments are closed.


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