Introduction

Founded in 1995 as the policy arm of the Ford Foundation’s Strengthening Fragile Families Initiative, the Center for Family Policy and Practice (CFFPP or the Center) provides analysis and education on the impact of national and state welfare, fatherhood, and child support policy on low-income parents and their children. In particular, the Center’s work concentrates on parents who are in financial positions that would qualify them for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and other public assistance programs. These parents typically have very low earnings ($15,000 a year or less) and unstable, intermittent employment. Because of limited advocacy and policy analysis from the perspective of very low-income and unemployed men of color, the Center focuses on their perspective with regard to these issues.

While the Center’s work concentrates on the unique barriers affecting no- and low-income fathers, throughout our history, CFFPP has also reached out to and worked with women’s organizations and domestic violence advocates. The intent of this deliberate outreach has been to openly discuss the potential impact that encouraging father involvement or providing services to low-income men could have on women and children in general, and on victims and survivors of domestic violence in particular. The Center entered this discussion to provide additional education and information about the need for comprehensive social services – for both women and men – that promote safety and address the complex issues lowincome families face.

Over the years, CFFPP has facilitated a number of dialogues and served as a bridge between community-based “fatherhood” programs (that provide voluntary educational, employment, legal, and peer support services to low-income men) and women’s advocacy organizations (primarily domestic violence agencies and programs). Center-facilitated dialogues and cross-trainings have created opportunities for fatherhood practitioners and domestic violence advocates to learn more about each other’s work and explore how greater mutual understanding may serve to increase the well-being and safety of all members of low-income communities of color.

In addition to conducting policy analysis and reviewing research literature, the Center’s work draws heavily from the knowledge, experiences, and expertise of service providers and the individuals who live in low-income communities. This paper is, in part, informed by a series of meetings and listening sessions CFFPP convened to discuss the complex challenges and barriers to achieving safety and economic security that members of low-income communities of color face. Between 2008-2011, the Center hosted: three meetings with national and local domestic violence advocates and experts; two national meetings with practitioners who provide social services to low-income men; and two sets of listening sessions. In one set of listening sessions, low-income African American men were invited to share their experiences and challenges with regard to employment, child support, and incarceration.

Another more extensive set of listening sessions focused on domestic violence and social welfare services in low-income communities. Participants included: low-income African American and Latina women who were victims and survivors of domestic violence; African American and Latina domestic violence advocates; and a variety of social service providers. The Center asked participants to discuss the kinds of domestic violence and economic support services that are available to low-income women of color, barriers that get in the way of women utilizing services, unmet and outstanding needs, and the kinds of services that are available for men in the community. The details and results of these listening sessions appear in the report Safety and Services: Women of Color Speak About Their Communities. and two sets of listening sessions.