Columbia-based fatherhood program expands to Colleton County
by The Press and Standard | March 9, 2019 5:00 am
Last Updated: March 6, 2019 at 11:05 am
When 11-year-old Hannah Collins tragically passed away in the summer of 2016 from complications of a brain-eating amoeba contracted while she was swimming in the Edisto River, it opened a small window into a little known public policy that most South Carolinians are unaware of — unless they run afoul of it.
Hannah’s father, Jeff Collins, was able to be at his daughter’s bedside as her death approached because Colleton County Sheriff Andy Strickland asked a South Carolina Family Court judge to allow him to visit her. Collins was serving time in Colleton County Jail because he owed more than $15,000 in back child support.
Although Collins does not represent a typical case, since 2002, the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families has assisted nearly 17,000 South Carolina fathers.
In 2018, its services helped save South Carolinians nearly $10 million in taxpayer-funded incarceration costs.
A social service organization funded by the Columbia-based Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, South Carolina Fathers and Families advocates for jobs over jail.
“When working fathers fall behind on child support, we can work with DSS to prevent their driver’s license from being revoked so they can hold their job,” explained Mark Himes, the center’s program manager. S.C. Fathers and Families also assists eligible fathers with records expungement, which is often an impediment to gainful employment.
“We believe that children can thrive when an engaged, responsible father is active in their lives,” Himes said.
The center supports father-friendly policies and practices and helps to erase society’s often negative stereotypes of unwed, low-income dads.
“We collaborate with over 300 partners to bring comprehensive services to fathers and their families,” said communications director Wayne Thornley.
Partner organizations include the South Carolina Department of Social Services, TD Bank, and Men’s Wearhouse. Through its Jobs Not Jail program, fathers who enroll in the center’s outreach programs receive one-on-one assistance and guidance on child support, parenting and co-parenting, job readiness and employment, financial management, the legal system, healthcare, transportation, stable housing, spiritual development, effective communication, healthy relationships and men’s health education — skills from which all parents and families can benefit.
Fathers also receive help finding a lawyer and modifying child support, if needed.
When more complex issues involving alcohol, drugs and violent behavior, or mental illness arise, the center helps fathers obtain specialized treatment and professional help.
“I’ve gone to my son’s school and to my local newspaper and begged them not to put my ex-husband’s photo in the paper when he goes to jail for being a being a deadbeat dad,” a woman at Family Court told me. (She asked that I withhold her name because her family is well-known.) “He cries and doesn’t want to go to school because some kids tease and bully him,” she said.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, of the approximately 2.2 million Americans who are currently incarcerated, about 21,000 are South Carolinians. At present, the U.S. has the world’s highest incarceration rate: higher than Turkmenistan, El Salvador, Thailand and the Russian Federation. Americans comprise five percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Programs like S.C. Fathers and Families are working to make a difference, one father and one family at a time.
Father-to-father services are available statewide through six programs in 12 communities across the Palmetto State.
If your sorority, fraternity, church, men’s or women’s club, or organization would like to make a difference in a dad’s life by providing employment and training, donating gently used work and professional clothes, inviting a representative to speak or volunteering your time or other resources, call 843-782-9090, visit www.southcarolinafamilies.com online, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Lowcountry native Vasilisa Hamilton is an author, independent journalist, and communications strategist. Her website is Papadidntpreach.com.)