Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino recently recognized fathers in the Responsible, Employed, Active, and Loving, R.E.A.L., Parenting Program for Stronger Families with a graduation ceremony at Playland Amusement Park. Conducted in partnership with Family Services of Westchester, R.E.A.L. works to remove barriers to employment, teach parenting skills, and give non-custodial parents the opportunity to eliminate most of their state-owed child support arrears.
“There is no better feeling than handing out these diplomas,” said Astorino during the ceremony on Thursday. “These men made a conscious decision to make their lives and their children’s lives better through hard work and dedication. We applaud these upstanding individuals and everyone that has worked so hard to make the R.E.A.L. Parenting Program the success it is today.”
R.E.A.L. Parenting Program classes include the art of communication, financial literacy, surviving the job and developing values in children. R.E.A.L. is marked by three milestones:
- Phase 1 – Completion of the 10-week parenting and job training program which provides a 25 percent reduction in state-owed child support arrears.
- Phase 2 – Employed for more than 90 days; which provides another 25 percent reduction in state-owed arrears.
- Phase 3 – Non-custodial parent pays child support for 12 consecutive months; which reduces state-owed child support to $500.
One of this year’s graduates, Clinton Bess, completed all three phases.
“The R.E.A.L. Parenting Program has been a complete life changer for me and my children,” Bess said. “It has given me the opportunity to completely start over. Today, I am a better father and financially stable. Thank you to everyone who has made this a reality.”
Susan Wayne, president and CEO of Family Services of Westchester, said it is a pleasure to collaborate with the county on the R.E.A.L Parenting Program.
“We truly value our partnership, which in my perspective, aligns our missions,” Wayne said. “We both want to be able to ensure that those in our community who are less fortunate, or who have run into difficult times, are at least given the opportunity, when practical, to move forward and start fresh.”
Also at the ceremony was Department of Social Services Commissioner Kevin McGuire. “The cumulative outcomes of R.E.A.L. prove that it is successful,” McGuire said. “A program like this should not only continue for years to come, but expand to reach more non-custodial parents who want and need a second chance.”
Astorino announced the R.E.A.L. Parenting Program in April 2016 as a first-of-its-kind initiative in New York, saying: “We owe it to our kids—and we owe it to our dads who have fallen away—to try and give them a second chance.”