Challenges for Rural Fathers

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Publication Date
August 16, 2018

Rural Areas often face a lack of access to resources needed to support fathers: employment, transportation, housing, healthcare

Being a father is tough. However, being a father while living in a rural, small community comes with a unique set of challenges of its own. Unlike urban areas, where resources are often more available and more accessible, rural areas often lack access to resources needed to support fathers, such as employment, transportation, housing, and healthcare. This state of resource scarcity can be daunting to new and old fathers, but community-based organizations can help guide these fathers to a better lifestyle.

Although economies in rural communities are improving, job growth in these areas is still not on par with larger cities. Many people have to commute to nearby cities for work, presenting challenges with time and transportation. There are no subways, buses, or cabs to get them there, leaving fathers to turn to family and friends to help them get to work.  If they have personal transportation, the price of maintaining that vehicle can come at a high cost. For poor fathers, it isn’t just about getting a job. It’s about using what little resources they have to keep it.

All Dads Matter participants with their childrenAnother issue facing fathers in rural areas is the lack of affordable housing. The cost of living is generally lower than in metropolitan areas, but rural fathers can still have a hard time paying their bills. Sure, public housing is available, but these units are primarily occupied by mothers and children. As a last resort before living on the street or in a shelter, these men can rely on friends or family for a night’s sleep on a sofa. However, without a decent place to call home, a poor father’s sense of self-worth deteriorates.

Rural areas also lack access to quality health care. Low-income fathers can be plagued with health problems, but forego seeing a doctor because their job doesn’t provide health insurance benefits. Free clinics are few and far between, and with rural hospitals closing at alarming rates, a visit to an emergency room may be out of the question. Further, if a father isn’t feeling his best, taking time off from work can also mean a loss of income.

Captive in their own communities, but there is hope
With all these challenges, living in a small town can feel like living in a room with four walls and no windows. For fathers who are living in poverty with no view of a future for a better life, living simply becomes surviving. Too often we have to dream for them. They don’t have models of success, what it can look like, or what it takes to achieve it.

So, we end up helping them create a dream. We help them think outside of the box. We help them move from surviving to thriving. We are the community-based organizations, the churches and the government agencies that work together to maximize their limited resources.
Fatherhood programs are a critical part of the fabric of these rural communities – they help bring together resources to benefit fathers. They are a constant reminder in the community as an advocate for the father. They help bring the missing resources of legal services, access to health care, linkage to distant employment and education opportunities, transportation, and affordable and stable housing together. Most of all, they provide the hope and the vision for a better future for themselves and their children.

For more information about fathering and fatherhood programs in rural areas, check out these three NRFC resources:

  • A Demographic Snapshot of Rural Fathers Roughly one in five people and more than one in 10 men between the ages of 18 and 44 in the United States live in rural communities. Although rural and urban fathers are similar in many ways, there are significant differences shaping their lives and opportunities that have implications for fatherhood programs.
  • Spotlight on Rural Fatherhood Programs One of the goals of fatherhood programming is to improve the lives of children by enhancing fathers’ emotional and financial support and encouraging healthy family dynamics. Rural fatherhood programs may need to address these topics in unique and creative ways due to some of the practical challenges of providing services in rural areas.
  • Highlighting a Rural Community Partnership: All Dads Matter Fatherhood Program and Child Support Services of Merced County Community partnerships can increase the range of available services, enhance recruitment and retention efforts, and help fathers gain access to employment and training opportunities. This case study describes the development of such a partnership in a rural area of central California (Merced County) and provides an overview of lessons learned.