Improving Access to Healthcare for Low-Income Non-Custodial Fathers
Low-income men are among the most vulnerable when it comes to health and healthcare. Very few, if any, safety nets exist for unemployed, non-custodial fathers over the age of 21. Most are in survival mode weighted down by a series of poor choices including being poorly educated, having little to no job skills, unstable work histories, multiple partners, unprotected sexual relations often resulting in unplanned pregnancies, mounting child support debt, substance abuse and encounters with law enforcement frequently culminating in incarceration. Many suffer from depression and medical conditions exacerbated by the multiple stressors of unemployment, threats of incarceration for non-payment of child support, and in many cases, prohibited from seeing their children.
Seeking help is difficult for low-income fathers and their levels of mistrust of formal systems are high. Community-based fatherhood programs provide excellent, non-traditional environments for low-income fathers to learn about being healthy in a trusted, accessible and familiar environment which becomes a catalyst for improving their health and health care behaviors. In a survey of 890 low-income fathers, trusting health care workers was ranked more important than available, low-cost exams/screenings when they sought health care services. The difference was statistically significant (mean score 4.24 versus 3.75 with five being extremely important).
By integrating the health care component into the overall fatherhood program, the aim is to normalize health and healthcare for the men within the context of daily living rather than only viewing it as something to be attended to exclusively in the presence of illness. Thus, as fathers seek to improve their lives and acquire knowledge and skills about parenting, healthy relationships, job readiness and employment, navigating formal systems, and increasing their self- esteem, they will be able to learn about proper men's health practices for themselves as responsible fathers. Equipped to practice positive health behaviors as a normal part of life fathers can readily model positive health behaviors for their children to witness and embrace.
In 2007, The Center added a Men's Health Component in four local fatherhood program sites to address this very issue. The goals of the Men's Health project include:
- Facilitate access through accessible health education, screening, and other health care services;
- Increase access to prescription drugs and other medical services necessary for good health;
- Increase understanding that good health as a critical part of being a good father, having a positive relationship with their children and being able to support their children emotionally and financially.