Father’s role is critical in stemming infant mortality
A Special Series By Milwaukee Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families
A statement made by the President of the National Fatherhood Initiative rings all too true, not just in Milwaukee, but throughout our nation. He said, “Every child has a hole in his soul in the shape of their father.”
While no one debates that there are great fathers who not only step up to the plate to be more than sperm donors, but role models, nurturers, protectors and care givers, the unfortunate reality is that one out of every three children in the United States is being raised in a fatherless home. And, it’s been said that while mothers value her children, dads— real dads—validate them.
The Milwaukee Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families ( LIHF), which was established by Wisconsin Partnership Program (WPP), recognizes the critical role of fathers to a child’s well-being and has woven it into its comprehensive initiative to address infant mortality in Milwaukee.
As part of an aggressive plan to get at the heart of the myriad of issues that contribute to infant mortality, the LIHF has not only included agencies that serve this population, but through a 90-minute discussion with fathers, has facilitated dialogue with 21 African American men in an effort to understand and capture the concerns, barriers, perceptions and challenges identified by these men.
Moreover, as part of the Transition Team’s effort in working aggressively to identify a backbone agency to move the LIHF from planning to implementation stages, fathers’ concerns are well documented, with representatives who served that population being invited to the table.
Moreover, the team’s recommendations to the Oversight Advisory Committee of the Wisconsin Partnership Program include several individuals and organizations whose primary focus is on serving the varied and unique needs of fathers and issues surrounding fatherabsent homes.
Recently, there have been two high profile examples of fathers involved in the lives of their children that have been front and center in the media.
First Dwayne Wade, a former student and basketball player of Marquette University and professional basketball player for the Miami Heat, who is raising his two sons and a nephew and has written a book about the joys, perils and importance of fathers raising their children.
He has become a celebrity role model for nurturing and raising his children as a single dad and, by all accounts, he has taken on the role seriously and is doing a good job.
On another front, according the Black Youth Project, Jonathan Watkins’ six-month old daughter, Jonylah Watkins, was slain while her dad changed her diaper on the steps of their apartment in Chicago. The shooter was aiming at the father, apparently over a disagreement about a video game.
Watkins said this terrible tragedy has inspired him to reassess his life and turn it around. But, as the series states, his daughter is gone too soon.
The latter example further demonstrates that infant mortality is just as attributable to environment and lifestyle, as it is to physical and emotional challenges. If we were to ‘Monday morning quarterback’ we might surmise that if that dad had had a job, if he hadn’t been ‘hanging out’ during the day, if he lived in a better neighborhood and if his influencers and peers were more positive individuals, Jonylah might be alive today.
Not all infant mortality is the result of an accidental shooting or violence. In fact, too often, it’s the result of a combination of environment, physical and/or emotional stressors.
But all too often the causes of infant mortality can be avoided with preventive and proactive solutions.
That is at the heart of what Milwaukee LIHF is trying to accomplish.
As the Transition Team submits its final report and prepares to search for a backbone agency, its members are committed to addressing the issue of infant mortality in a holistic manner and in the context that it does not just affect or concern mothers— but acknowledges and supports the critical role fathers play a in the lives of their children.
According to the National Healthy Start Foundation (NHSF) the direct impact on a child’s well-being and the benefits of having a father present have been linked not only to improved pregnancy outcomes but also enhanced child development.
A study conducted by the NHSF states, “A father’s involvement has shown to have a positive impact on a child’s emotional and psychological state, educational development, and school readiness, as well as increased ability to socialize and build good relationships.”
In contrast, research has shown that the lack of fatherhood involvement can have long-term negative effects on children.
They are more likely to be poor, have a greater risk of being involved in dangerous or unhealthy behaviors influenced by peers, and have an increased risk of developmental delays. The presence of males and fathers in the lives of children is essential to their emotional, social, educational, and physical development.
To that end, the Milwaukee LIHF is committed to integrating strategies in its implementation plan to fully engage, support and include fathers in its processes, programs and systems.
The Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families (LIHF) is the centerpiece of a multiyear evidencebased program created by the Wisconsin Partnership Program and the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health that is investigating and addressing the high incidence of African American infant mortality in the state