R.E.A.L. Parenting programMarch 17, 2017- Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino, today called for expanding a successful Department of Social Services pilot program that helps non-custodial fathers get back into the lives of their children through a combination of life skills, parenting, employment training and other key employment and child support benchmarks in exchange for help with debt owed to the state for child support arrears. Currently, the pilot only allows for the participation of fathers with court ordered child support obligations and who owe arrears to DSS. Astorino said DSS will ask the state to make the program permanent and to expand it to include all fathers in arrears (not just the ones with court orders) who have un-emancipated children.

As part of his #DadBeThere campaign, Astorino launched the R.E.A.L (Responsible. Employed. Active. Loving.) Parenting program in April of 2016. The hallmark of the program is a 10-week, twice a day, two hours a day, life skills, parenting skills and employment skills training. When successfully completed, participants get a 25 percent reduction in the DSS arrears they owe the state. They receive help finding a job and if they can stay gainfully employed for 90 days, they get another 25 reduction. If they pay their child support responsibilities for a year their total payment drops to $500.

“We were excited when we launched our R.E.A.L. Parenting program and we’re even more excited at how successful it has been in giving these fathers a helping hand up, to get on their feet, and most importantly, get back in the lives of their children who so desperately need their love and guidance, financial and emotional support,” said Astorino. “This isn’t a one way street. We help them on their feet but they must stand and walk tall. Personal responsibility and commitment and hard work is required for this second chance and that’s what we’ve been getting and that’s why we want to expand the program.”

Currently there are 25 fathers enrolled in the program.

Alphonso Simmons of Family Services of Westchester runs the R.E.A.L Parenting training classes.

“This is the best program in the state and it allows non-custodial fathers to have a second chance to be the best father they always wanted to be,” said Simmons.

Marquise Ham is one such father. A 31-year old Mount Vernon resident with a 9-year old son is one week away from completing the training program and is employed at Pureganic Café in Rye.

“I made some missteps along the way, but I’m taking responsibility and doing what I need to do as a man and as a father because I love my son and I know he needs me,” said Ham. “I’m grateful to the county for this opportunity.”

On April 4, 2017, Astorino will be hosting the 3rd Annual New York Fathering Conference at the County Center. There will be 21 workshops on topics such as job retraining, hiring trends, navigating government programs, men’s health and wellness, parenting skills, and ways to better engage fathers. The keynote speaker is Mike Brady, CEO of leading social enterprise whose world-renowned Greyston Bakery provides employment opportunities that help lift people out of poverty

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Studies show that children in father-absent homes are four times more likely to be living in poverty; more likely to underperform in school; suffer child abuse; get involved in drugs and/or alcohol; get in trouble with the law; or get pregnant.