By Ryan Dailey, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — As state leaders take on what they are calling a “fatherhood crisis” in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed a bill that will provide about $70 million to bolster programs aimed at equipping dads with parenting resources and helping foster youth.
The measure (HB 7065) received bipartisan support during the 2022 legislative session, passing unanimously in the House and Senate.
Under the bill, the state Department of Children and Families will be directed to contract for the creation of the “Responsible Fatherhood Initiative.” The initiative will be geared toward providing information on effective parenting and will include a media campaign that “may include appearances by and involvement from public figures and influencers.”
A significant portion of the money earmarked for the program, about $32.6 million, will go toward funding grants aimed at assisting fathers. The grants will be targeted at issues such as helping fathers find employment, manage child support obligations and transition from a period of incarceration. The measure also accompanies funding in the state budget for grants that “provide evidence-based parenting education specifically for fathers.”
The law also increases a stipend, from $1,256 to $1,720, for young adults who previously were in the foster care system and are attending postsecondary schools.
DeSantis said the measure will have “huge ramifications” for helping young Floridians reach their potential.
“If you look over the last many decades, one of the worst social trends has been the decline of fatherhood. And we do have, in many instances, a fatherhood crisis in this country. The fact of the matter is when you take kids who do not have a father present during their upbringing, the chance of them dropping out of school, getting involved in trouble with the law, having other difficulties, increases dramatically,” DeSantis, the father of three young children, said during a press conference in Tampa on Monday.
The measure also aims to boost collaboration between the state Department of Children and Families and Department of Juvenile Justice to better serve children who are “dually involved” with both systems, meaning they receive services from both agencies.
Republican lawmakers and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, who made the measure a top priority during the session, flanked DeSantis at Monday’s event, which took place at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ practice facility.
“If you look at every social study there is on this topic, whether it is suicide rates or depression or dropping out of school, everything you can think of, mass incarceration — one of the greatest common factors that unites those people is an absent father in their life,” Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said.
Tony Dungy, a Tampa sports icon who is a former head coach of the Buccaneers and an inductee into the NFL Hall of Fame, also joined the governor to endorse the new law.
Dungy works with the nonprofit group All Pro Dad, which provides parenting information and hosts events. Dungy said the measure signed by DeSantis will be “such a big help” to fathers in Florida and the agencies that help them.
In the record $112.1 billion budget (HB 5001) for the fiscal year that begins July 1, All Pro Dad would receive $1.2 million for literacy and family engagement programs and another $1.92 million to promote adoption and foster care. DeSantis has not received the budget from lawmakers yet.
The literacy program got $1.2 million for the current fiscal year that ends June 30, and the adoption effort received $650,000. Two years ago, the totals were $700,000 for the literacy efforts and $650,000 to promote adoption services.
After highlighting funding and the various programs the bill he signed Monday aims to benefit, DeSantis said the onus is on fathers to be present in their children’s lives.
“We’re putting our money where our mouth is. We’re here showing the importance of this. But you’ve got to be willing to do the right thing and be present in your child’s life. You’re not a man by leaving your kids hung out to dry. You need to be there,” DeSantis said.
— News Service staff writer Jim Turner contributed to this report.