Today, father absence is among the most pervasive social problems challenging American families. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 24 million children in America, one out of three children in the U.S., now live in biological father-absent homes. A growing body of empirical evidence reveals a connection between father absence and an increase in social problems including poverty, teen pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, physical abuse, suicide, substance and alcohol abuse and other pathologies.
While the aforementioned family statistics are formidable, hope is on the horizon. The presence of a responsible father improves a variety of outcomes for children and serves as a protective factor against problem behaviors including teen drug use, pregnancy, truancy, and criminal activity. Thus, supporting and encouraging fathers to become more present and actively involved in their child's life offers significant potential to reduce the adverse effects of father absence and to empower individual lives, foster families, and contribute to community well-being.
Similarly, mentoring—the presence of a caring adult offering support, advice, friendship, reinforcement and constructive examples—has proven to be a powerful tool for helping youth reach their full potential. Quality mentoring relationships offer significant potential to reduce the adverse effects of father absence by improving young people’s attitudes toward parents, encouraging students to focus on their education, and helping children face daily challenges. Also, mentoring serves as an important means to promote responsible fatherhood by being present in the lives of those youth where the biological father cannot or should not be present to promote the health and safety of the child and the family. Consistently, a growing body of empirical literature concludes that volunteer mentoring serves as a valuable prevention and intervention strategy that has proven effective at “making a difference” in the lives of at-risk, higher-risk and underserved youth.
In general, the extant body of research supports the claim that strong mentoring relationships reduce a variety of problem behaviors among vulnerable youth including those associated with father absence. Quality mentoring serves as an effective mode of intervention for young people and favorable research findings are consistent across a range of populations, settings, modalities, and outcomes. Specifically, our review of the empirical evidence reveals that Big Brothers Big Sisters' brand of one-to-one volunteer mentoring has emerged as an effective practice for positive youth development—and as an invaluable tool to help young people succeed in life. Moreover, our mentoring model serves as an evidence-based prevention and intervention strategy uniquely positioned to promote responsible fatherhood via bringing hope to young lives through the power of presence.
Richard A. Lewis, director of Federal Compliance and Project Management, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America