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Dr. Arlene Andrews started her career in social work helping women abused by men. But the last part of her career has been devoted to helping men become better supporters of families.

Men sometimes fail to support their children because they’ve failed to support themselves—spiritually and materially, Andrews said.

“A social worker’s goal is justice, particularly restorative justice, to try to find a win-win situation where everyone gains,” she said. “Our goal is to create strong, healthy families. In order to do that, you have to work with every member of the family.”

 

Andrews retired last spring from the College of Social Work after teaching there since 1986. During her tenure at the COSW, she helped found several organizations that continue to help families in South Carolina, and she has inspired countless students. Even after retirement she remains active as a mentor and independent consultant.

Patrick Patterson, a 2013 recipient of the College of Social Work’s Alumnus-of-the-Year Award, is among those who consider Andrews to be a mentor. Patterson is manager of the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, a federal program that reaches out to dads through its website and barbershop literature.

Patterson’s own father left home when he was 15, and he grew up in a subsidized housing project in Columbia. After graduating from Benedict College with a bachelor’s degree in social work, he began work on his master’s degrees in social work and public health in the late 1990s at USC. He became an intern for Andrews, who put Patterson to work on her research into fatherhood issues.

“She pushed me in a great way to go beyond the borders of the state,” he said. “I give a great deal of credit to her in my career.”

Andrews said her “retirement” has so far been busier than semesters spent teaching.

Her recent efforts include helping fathers who fall behind on child support payments because they’ve lost their jobs through programs co-sponsored by the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families.

One program co-sponsored by the South Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission helps direct men to a simple online form that allows them to ask judges to reduce their required child support payments. Often men get in trouble with the court because they can’t afford to hire a lawyer for the simple process.

The second project pairs the man with a job coach, who will assess the man’s skills and provide advice and encouragement. The two meet at least once, and develop a plan together. Most follow-up contact is by telephone.

The 12-month, pilot job-coaching program was conducted through a SC Department of Employment and Workforce office in Greenville and the Greenville Fatherhood Coalition. The SC Department of Social Services and the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families assisted.

“We were dealing with men who had been rejected in many ways,” Andrews said. “They had dropped of school, dropped out of families and dropped out of the labor market. A lot of the fathers we deal with don’t have a lot of hope.”

The study found that the men who were coached were significantly more successful in becoming employed than those in a control group who were left to fend for themselves.

“One of the principles is to reach the heart of the man,” she said, “to focus not just on his fatherhood, but the total person. They need support and mentoring in developing stable jobs, better social skills, and stronger social supports.”

Andrews’ early career was marked by efforts to help women and children recover from abuse—often inflicted by fathers.

In 1977 she helped found what is now known as Prevent Child Abuse―South Carolina. In 1981, she helped found Sistercare, which serves women who suffer abuse in the Midlands. In the late 1980s, she trained USC graduate students to intervene in situations involving child abuse and neglect. Her students came not only from the College of Social Work, but from psychology, medicine, criminal justice, education, health, and nursing.

She worked with the University of South Carolina Institute for Families in Society starting in 1992, and served as its director from 1999 to 2006.

While working with the Institute she became involved with an anti-poverty initiative of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, a Catholic order of nuns based in Richfield, Ohio, that founded Providence Hospitals in Columbia.

The Sisters of Charity wanted to eliminate poverty and had decided to focus on children. Their foundation hired the Institute to conduct a study, which found the strongest correlation for child poverty was children whose fathers were unengaged.

That study led the Sisters of Charity to launch a fatherhood initiative that spawned 22 local programs. The Institute was hired to evaluate the programs for their effectiveness and ability to establish sustaining financial support.

Those initiatives became the core of the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families when it was created in 2002.

Patterson worked for the Center before leaving to work on national programs. Although he’s living in Newark, Delaware—600 miles from Columbia—his projects deal with issues similar to those Andrews is addressing.

Patterson, like his mentor, said he is dedicated to helping men “see the fullness of what dads can provide,” and to helping the women in their lives better understand men and their behaviors.

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