Strengthening Families

Strengthening Families

A unique program at Baltimore's Center for Urban Families takes a two-generation approach to helping couples and families get ahead.

Simone Madden and Thomas Carroll, a young couple living in Baltimore, have a strong desire to build a stable home and solid foundation for their 4-year-old son, Mason. Part of their stated motivation for working together is that neither grew up with a father in their homes.

Simone Madden and Thomas Carroll, graduates of the CAT program, apply both the relationship and financial skills they learned in class to their everyday lives as they raise their son.

“By being in my son’s life, I can give Mason the strength he needs to be a father, not just another guy looking for his father,” says Thomas.

Simone and Thomas are part of a unique program, Couples Advancing Together (CAT), that has been successfully working with mothers and fathers as co-parents, helping them share responsibility for raising their children – emotionally, physically and economically – including developing communication skills along with family and career goals needed to strengthen their relationships, compete in the job market and develop family budgets.

Operated by the Center for Urban Families (CFUF), CAT is a “wraparound program” aimed at families who currently receive public benefits through the Maryland Department of Social Services. By providing services such as healthy relationship skill-building, employment assistance and case management services, the program puts fathers in the best position they can be to play an active role in their children’s lives.

CFUF does its work in a community that suffers from some of the highest rates of delinquent child support payments in the state. The West Baltimore community is home to more than 2,400 men owing more than $20 million in back child support payments. The area also has some of the highest rates of men returning from incarceration, many of whom are fathers.

35 percent of children in the U.S. (almost 25 million) are growing up in single-parent homes.

“The women in our community are losing their sons, husbands and other male family members to incarceration, homicides and other circumstances,” says CFUF Founder and President Joseph Jones. “We can’t have women bear all of the burden. We have created a space here at CFUF where men can play a strong complementary role in their family.”

CFUF has served more than 26,000 Baltimoreans since 1999, providing the bridge that many have needed to attain stability, while also emerging as a leader in the national conversation on responsible fatherhood and black male achievement. Families in Baltimore face a host of challenges, living in a community that has been racked by racial tension, high rates of poverty and drug abuse, failing schools, alarming incidences of homicide and high incarceration rates that hamper the efforts of working families who strive for a better life.

The goal of strengthening families is what attracted us at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) to invest $2.1 million in the great work being done by CFUF. The well-being of children is not only at the center of their work, but it is the focus that drives ours as well.

Every child deserves a fair chance at success in school and life, and at WKKF, we concentrate our resources on early childhood (birth to age 8) within the context of families and communities. We believe that this, as well as addressing the gaps that too many children face, offers the best opportunity to help both children and their families overcome the barriers caused by poverty and racial inequity over time.

Our work supports educated children, healthy children and economically secure families, by making investments that are community-led and family-focused. We also have a core value that “place” truly matters, and that communities like Baltimore are their own best sources of wisdom and effective solutions. By working alongside communities, we can work together to identify policies and practices that stand in the way of the success of children and families, like those that affect fathers’ ability to positively contribute to their children’s futures. This partnership also helps inform the development of smart public policy that helps break the cycle of poverty for families.

Helping families achieve economic security also allows them to be fully empowered and equipped to support their children. Yet 35 percent of children in the U.S. (almost 25 million) are growing up in single-parent homes. The highest rates of single parenthood are in the homes of children of color, which also increases the likelihood that these children will grow up in poverty.

CFUF has come to a clear understanding that integral to improving the lives of the children of Baltimore is the need to better engage fathers in playing a strong, supportive role in the upbringing of their children.

The organization has succeeded in developing a program that has sustained bipartisan support through three presidential and two gubernatorial administrations and leveraged public funding (state and federal) and other private investments from like-minded philanthropic organizations, to sustain them in their ability to create brighter futures for the children and families they serve.

Our investment in CFUF aims to help deepen the impact of their work to improve the lives of the children in the families they serve. In addition to relationship skills coaching and employment assistance, parents participate in a six-week, 12-session program that includes home visits and long-term follow-up after completion. CFUF facilitators guide parents through a program that meets the unique needs of the families in a positive and respectful environment that allows couples to share their experiences with their peers. Parents are able to learn how to successfully relate to one another and then work together to raise their children.

CFUF also assists couples with developing the family and career goals needed to strengthen their personal relationships, compete in the job market and develop family budgets. To ensure participation, CFUF provides transportation assistance, child care and dinner for parents and their children. The outcomes being pursued with WKKF support include ensuring that at least 50 percent of participating parents are employed and supporting 100 percent of participating families with self-sufficiency plans and case management. Since its inception in 2015, 116 couples have successfully completed the CAT program.

Additionally, our investment has made it possible for CFUF to solidify relationships with community child care providers, as there is great need for increased access to high-quality care for families. CFUF is supplying transportation to child care providers for its families, as well as working with providers to increase the quality of their care.

To ensure parent participation in the CAT program, CFUF provides families with transportation assistance, child care and dinner for parents and their children.

To ensure parent participation in the CAT program, CFUF provides families with transportation assistance, child care and dinner for parents and their children.

It’s this unique and intentional two-parent focus, along with a two-generation approach that simultaneously seeks to improve parents’ employment and financial status while engaging childcare for their children, that we believe holds promise for the continued success of the program.

Thomas summed up what the program has meant to him and to his family, saying, “Ever since the CAT program, we are stepping up. It’s not a one-year program, it’s a life program. We had a big learning curve, and some things were hard to grasp, but with encouragement and support from everyone at the Center for Urban Families, we have grown so much – individually and as a family.”

Carla D. Thompson is Vice President of Program Strategy at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.


Couples Advancing Together, Center for Urban Families


W.K. Kellogg Foundation