- About 20 percent of U.S. children don’t live with their father, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
- Fathers’ UpLift, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization, provides fathers with mental health and community support to engage in their children’s lives.
- Addressing past trauma can help fathers understand their struggles with parenting.
Charles Daniels grew up in a household without his father. Throughout his childhood, he watched his mother struggle as a single parent while he grappled with understanding why his father was absent.
“As I got older, I learned that my dad struggled with a variety of mental health issues, and I began to understand how difficult it must have been for him to navigate emotional issues and relationships without the appropriate support,” Daniels told Healthline.
As an adult, Daniels channeled his empathy for his father and other dads in similar situations into a greater good.
In 2012, he founded Fathers’ UpLift, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization which provides mental health support to fathers and helps them become engaged in their children’s lives.
“There is complexity when it comes to getting men involved in therapy in Black communities. Past treatment of Black men in mental health facilities and lack of trust are barriers. We provide guidance to men who had experiences like my own father had,” said Daniels.
Samantha Fils-Daniels, co-founder of Fathers’ UpLift and therapist at the organization, said talking about disparities in the Black community is part of therapy sessions.
“We talk about race in the sessions and stigma and how we understand from a personal perspective what fathers have experienced. We want them to be comfortable with the language and people in the office,” Fils-Daniels told Healthline.
The approach proves effective — 95 percent of fathers who received help from the organization reported an improved sense of self and improved relations with their kids.
“Based on the men we work with, what we have found is that when they feel important, they feel valuable and continue to work toward being the people they want to be toward other people,” said Daniels.
He believes the reason fathers continue to get help from Fathers’ UpLift is based on this notion.
“The commissioner of the Department of Public Health asked [some of the fathers we helped] what was different about our program or what made them participate in mental health therapy with us, and they told her, ‘It’s because they make us feel important,’” said Daniels.
Fathers’ UpLift started off organically and was built by word-of-mouth from dads who the organization helped.
Today, it has worked with more than 5,000 fathers and receives referrals from child welfare offices, local mental health and substance abuse programs, hospitals, and schools.
Because Massachusetts is a state where almost everyone is insured, as a mental health and substance abuse treatment facility, the organization can bill the state for services. For fathers who don’t have insurance, Fathers’ UpLift taps into funds they receive through grants.
Fathers seek out therapy for different matters, including legal issues with the court system.
“When they come in our doors, they are looking for reconnections with their children and families, and want to access therapy to help with that. We coach them along with how to dress in court, and how to show that they are doing their due diligence in terms of making effort,” said Fils-Daniels.
A big part of therapy deals with addressing their past trauma.
“We have found that many fathers don’t understand how their past trauma has affected how they parent or how they’re not in their children’s lives at the moment,” Fils-Daniels said.
She provides a full psychological assessment and talk therapy to work through past trauma.
Stephanie E. Johnson, owner of NaviPsych and executive director of the Lee Thompson Young Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia, said Black men who have experienced personal, environmental, racial, and/or socioeconomic traumas and who are willing to explore how those experiences have effected how they think, feel, and act will find insight into themselves that can positively affect how they parent.
However, if they’re not aware that past experiences were indeed traumatic, then they’ll also be unaware of how their actions affect their parenting.
Johnson said this is where trauma-informed care can help them understand and respond to trauma.
“Many therapists have added this tool to their tool boxes of skills because research on trauma has broadened the definition of trauma due to the deep effects that negative past experiences can have on people over time,” Johnson told Healthline.
She said there are six guiding principles to trauma-informed care:
- trustworthiness and transparency
- peer support
- collaboration and mutuality
- empowerment and choice
- cultural, historical, and gender issues
“Addressing these principles are essential to allowing healing to happen, which can yield a more present and engaged parent,” said Johnson.
Fils-Daniels shared a story of a father she worked with in 2012 who had served time in jail.
“From our first meeting, he wanted to be connected with his kids, even though they were older and had their own kids. We worked with him for substance abuse and other mental health issues that he was having,” she said.
With time, the man moved into his own apartment, started his own construction business, and connected with his children and grandchildren.
“His children initially didn’t want anything to do with him. Over time, he was able to understand his past trauma and [relay it to] his children, so they could be aware of it for themselves. It’s great to see how we can support a whole unit, not only him, but his children and grandchildren and his place in society too,” said Fils-Daniels.
Another father, Javan Tooley, who the program helped, recently sat down to talk about Black fatherhood with Oprah, Killer Mike, and Tyler Perry.
“We helped him focus on reentering society after being incarcerated for years for something he didn’t do. He attributes us for helping him get back into society. He has a baby girl now and was able to buy her a crib with donations we received from a giving campaign. He’s now a public speaker and making a difference in Boston,” said Daniels.
Daniels recently talked with Tooley on his podcast, “AFAR-Absent for a Reason.”
In addition to providing therapy to dads, Fathers’ Uplift has a Male Engagement Institute built on the premise that the successful preparation of mental health professionals, who are experienced in engaging men and their families, is dependent on the ongoing development of professional competencies and practical hands-on experience.
“We found that the curriculum of many schools of social work and psychology are not necessarily training their students on how to work with Black and brown men effectively, so we provide that training, and we also provide training for child welfare workers that are looking to increase their ability to engage fathers and men of color in their respective organizations,” said Daniels.
When students graduate from the institute, they’re welcome to take part in an alumni program and work in a coaching capacity for Fathers’ UpLift.
With the current state of racial discrimination in the country, having well-equipped mental health professionals is more important than ever, said Daniels.
“This current state makes [men of color] feel valueless and not important. Mental health professionals have a very important role to give them a space to voice their concerns and really work through those difficult emotions when they see young men being killed who look like them,” said Daniels.
Johnson agreed, and said Fathers’ UpLift is the perfect resource for dads during this time.
“I think that Fathers’ UpLift is a great example of the type of support system that is needed when individuals, especially those who have experienced trauma, are engaged in the healing process. Social support is vital to remaining engaged in changing one’s life for the better,” she said.
In 2019, Daniels was named an Obama Foundation Fellow for his impact.
“The Obama Foundation’s mission is to bring like-minded individuals together to make a collective change and a difference in the world, so to be involved with a community that is bigger than myself and bigger than the work that we’re doing nationally means the world to me,” he said.