The Long Way Home

As incarceration rates, poverty and violence in urban areas increase so does the number of absent fathers. The long-term trauma for families and communities of missing fathers has been misunderstood by the public and has received little attention by policymakers. Fathers themselves often don't know that they too have rights, even as their chances to ensure housing and food security for their families are curtailed by poverty. 

This film explores how the involvement and positive support by service providers is critical in protecting family unity and paternal involvement for low-income families. It illustrates the value and need of support systems for fathers to understand their rights, gain strength, to learn to advocate for themselves and to learn about fathering from other fathers.

The goal of our film, THE LONG WAY HOME, is to increase policy, institutional, community and family support for more positive participation by fathers living in low-income communities. We will do this by telling personal stories as a tool for education and advocacy.   



Discussion Guide

This guide is meant to explore the beginning of a very important conversation about the barriers impacting paternal participation in low-income families. To understand the value of fathers in the family has been the work of past research, yet there has been little research done exploring the barriers to paternal involvement. There are many misunderstandings as to why fathers allow themselves to be denied paternity or are forced to separate from their families. This discussion guide, as in the film, attempts to peer into the barriers that drive these decisions.

This discussion guide provides the opportunity for further investigation about the opportunities and barriers that low-income fathers face in reunifying with their children.

Themes explored

  • The policies and institutional systems that impact family unity, paternal participation and family trauma.
  • The role of service providers in family unity.
  • How the stigma against low-income single fathers affects involvement in their children's lives.


There are a significant number of fathers in the U.S. who deny paternity in order to prevent housing and food insecurity; though the full national impact of this practice has not yet been studied. What are some other sacrifices that parents make to ensure housing and food security for their families?

What are some of the barriers that fathers can experience if they want to reunify with their children?

When Joey says, "...this might be an important document for anybody that's involved in my daughter's life," what was the document he was talking about?

  • What rights does a father give up by denying his paternity on the birth certificate?
  • Why did Joey decide not to put his name on the birth certificate? What were the incentives to doing this?

When Joey is talking about his partner putting her name on the paperwork as ‘head of household' and he says, "so I'm just like a ghost..." what does he mean by this? How do you think this impacts how a father feels in a home where he "is a ghost."

Commissioner Lyons states, "Fathers really have all the rights that mothers have. Fathers have the rights to have their children live with them. They have the right to fight for custody. Fathers have the right to visit their children..."

  • What are some of the stigmas and stereotypes around the rights of fathers?
  • How do these discourage paternal involvement?

Senator Mark Leno stated, "I think this whole conversation could be refined to recognizing that people in desperate situations will do desperate things. So to the degree that our public policy and law making continues to keep people in desperate situations. Guess what! They will do things that those of us who aren't in those situations would think to be improper or desperate themselves."

  • What were the misconceptions he was attempting to debunk?
  • What are some desperate acts that people commit when they have food and housing insecurity? 
  • What state and/or federal policies discourage family unity?

What was the Catch 22 Eli was talking about when he said, "So they were saying unless you can get 51% of custody, unless you can get your daughter staying with you 51% of the time, you're not going to be able to continue to live here any longer?"

  • Why was it critical for Eli and his partner to live in a safe, monitored transitional housing facility with their newborn?
  • What were Eli's fears about this situation and what does this say about the housing challenges and supportive housing resources for parents who are trying to improve their lives?
  • What happened to help them secure their housing?

Considering that children need a safe and healthy environment to thrive, what are some of the resources that families need to provide safe and adequate housing and other aspects of care for their children?


Partner Organization

Homeless Prenatal Program, San Francisco

The Homeless Prenatal Program is located across the street from San Francisco General Hospital at 2500 18th St. San Francisco, CA 94110. Founder and Executive Director Martha Ryan began the Homeless Prenatal Program (HPP) with a grant from the San Francisco Foundation in 1989. Her goal was to have a program that provided prenatal care for homeless mothers. In their first year they helped 72 women and now with generous donors they have a permanent facility that serves as a comprehensive family resource center with a board of directors and 64 staff members serving 3300 clients a year.

Homeless Prenatal Program services include: Prenatal and parenting support, community health worker training, stabilizing families, a community technology center and a family economic program. The mission of the HPP is truly an asset-based program designed to foster the strengths of parents. The HPP website states: "Mission: In partnership with our families, break the cycle of childhood poverty."


Facts and Resources

In 2010, The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies put out a report from their Commission on Paternal Involvement in Pregnancy Outcomes titled, "Best and Promising Practices for Improving Research, Policy And Practice on Paternal Involvement in Pregnancy Outcomes." This report acknowledges both the importance of involved fathers in maternal and infant health outcomes; but more importantly it acknowledges the role of policy as either a barrier or facilitator to increasing involvement by fathers. Below are several of the commission recommendations for federal/state policy changes for those policies which are currently acting as barriers to father involvement.

  • Eliminate the distinction between single-parent and two-parent families in determining TANF eligibility
  • Expand eligibility for EITC and TANF to include non-custodial fathers who pay child support 
  • Improve child support payment to be "passed through" to their children, and lower the amount deducted from TANF payment to the mother 
  • Calculate the father's actual earnings as a percentage of child support payment
  • Reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) to support employment-training opportunities for low-income fathers 
  • Mandate that Healthy Start, Early Head Start, Head Start and other public programs serving children and families develop more "father-friendly" practices and programs that promote family values
  • Amend the requirements of birth certificates to include more paternal information
  • Father involvement has a significant influence on emotional, behavioral, developmental development in childhood, adolescence and adult children Flouri, Eirini, and Ann Buchanan. "The role of father involvement in children's later mental health." Journal of Adolescence 26.1 (2003): 63-78. Sarkadi, Anna, et al. "Fathers' involvement and children's developmental outcomes: a systematic review of longitudinal studies." Acta Paediatrica 97.2 (2008): 153-158.
  • Early paternal absence before the age of five increases the incidence of teen pregnancy 7-8 times. Late father absence increases teen pregnancy rates 2-3 times. -Ellis, Bruce J., et al. (2003). "Does father absence place daughters at special risk for early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy?" Child development 74.3: 801-821.

    The National Fatherhood Initiative has collected evidence-based research on the value of father participation and the consequences of father-absence. Below are some highlights and resources from their website:

  • "According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America -- one out of three -- live in biological father-absent homes...Consequently, there is a "father factor" in nearly all of the social issues facing America today."

  • "In a study examining father involvement with 134 children of adolescent mothers over the first 10 years of life, researchers found that father-child contact was associated with better socio-emotional and academic functioning. The results indicated that children with more involved fathers experienced fewer behavioral problems and scored higher on reading achievement. This study showed the significance of the role of fathers in the lives of at-risk children, even in case of nonresident fathers." Howard, K. S., Burke Lefever, J. E., Borkowski, J.G., & Whitman , T. L. (2006). Fathers' influence in the lives of children with adolescent mothers. Journal of Family Psychology, 20, 468- 476.

  • "Infant mortality rates are 1.8 times higher for infants of unmarried mothers than for married mothers." Matthews, T.J., Sally C. Curtin, and Marian F. MacDorman. (2000). Infant Mortality Statistics from the 1998 Period Linked Birth/Infant Death Data Set. National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 48, No. 12. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, 2000

  • "Even after controlling for community context, there is significantly more drug use among children who do not live with their mother and father." Hoffmann, John P. "The Community Context of Family Structure and Adolescent Drug Use." Journal of Marriage and Family 64 (May 2002): 314-330.

  • "Even after controlling for income, youths in father-absent households still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds." Harper, Cynthia C. and Sara S. McLanahan. "Father Absence and Youth Incarceration." Journal of Research on Adolescence 14 (September 2004): 369-397.

  • See more at:

  • CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES (CPS) was created to protect children. The War on Drugs and drug policies targeting low-income communities of color has occurred in tandem with the Welfare Reform policies of the 1990's. The aftermath of these policies is still ongoing and continues to destroy urban communities. There have been decades of fathers removed from their families and communities, along with Federal Housing Authority and Welfare Policies that prohibit felons from returning to their families (in the legal sense). CPS has felt the increased burden of family trauma in suffering communities and is in the process of re-evaluation. CPS is now under pressure to assess whether the high-risks of entering the foster system and effects of lifelong family/community trauma from family separation will benefit the child over alternative programs that instead, emphasize providing more support and resources for struggling families.

  • On June 5, 2013, the California Joint Legislative Auditing Committee voted unanimously for a six-month audit investigating the inconsistent policies of Child Protective Services. There have been numerous complaints across the state asserting that children are removed from their parents unnecessarily, creating family trauma and other cases where children are not removed when it is necessary, leaving them vulnerable to abuse.


    • 70% of all California State Prison inmates are former foster youth

    • 36% of California foster youth become homeless within 18 months of emancipation

    • 51% are unemployed within 2-4 years of emancipation

    • 40% on public assistance within 2-4 years of emancipation - United Friends of the Children. General Outcomes for Foster Youth. Webpage. Retrieved December 2, 2013.


    HOMELESS PRENATAL PROGRAM- "Every child deserves to be part of a supportive community. Over 200 active volunteers at Homeless Prenatal Program (HPP) help make our work with families possible."

    THE RIGHTS OF UNMARRIED FATHERS - "In recent decades the number of births of children to unmarried parents has led to an increased focus on the fathers of these children. Referred to as alleged, presumed, reputed, or putative fathers, many of them seek recognition of their legal rights and expanded roles in raising their children" (,2010). The link below is to a 2010 document from the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services titled, The Rights of Unmarried Fathers. This document outlines the rights that fathers have as well as how fathers can establish paternity. For up to date information on paternity rights, contact your local state child welfare department.

    THE NATIONAL FATHERHOOD INITIATIVE - "National Fatherhood Initiative® provides the highest quality and widest range of fatherhood skill-building printed material, workshop and curriculum kits, training, and technical assistance available. Our experienced staff can consult with you to develop a customized solution that will meet your and staffing level and budget requirements for serving fathers and their families."

    DEPENDENCY DRUG COURT- "The San Francisco Dependency Drug Court (DDC) is a court-supervised treatment and parenting program for people with children involved in the child welfare and dependency court system. DDC promotes stable, long-term family reunification by helping parents address their substance abuse issues, improve their parenting skills, and access wraparound services."

    PUBLIC POLICY INSTITUTE OF CALIFORNIA - "The California Poverty Measure: A New Look at the Social Safety Net. A new way of measuring poverty in California shows that 22 percent of residents lived in poor families in 2011. It also underscores the importance of the social safety net for many families in the state. The safety net's impact on children is especially dramatic-without the need-based programs included in the new measure, 39 percent (or 3.6 million California children) would be considered poor. A companion report released by the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality examines regional and demographic differences in poverty."


Meet the filmmakers

CHRISTINA IVAZES was raised off and on in the SF Bay Area, traveled for most of her life and lived in Mexico. Her experiences have inspired a deep interest in other cultures and alternative health and wellness. She graduated from SFSU's Master of Public Health Program in 2014. In addition to Christina's diverse upbringing, her career experiences as an educator, community organizer and youth advocate have led to a deep commitment as an advocate for populations disenfranchised by racism and structural inequities. Christina has researched the effects of racism and welfare policies on maternal and infant health outcomes. She uses her love of storytelling and photography in documentary film making and she sees film as a tool for advancing more upstream public health policies. When she is not working on her passion projects or writing, Christina spends time with her three daughters and eight grandchildren.

JAMES ALVERGUE was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Growing up, he developed a strong interest in film, especially documentaries and the compelling stories they express. He received a BA in cinema production with an emphasis in documentary from San Francisco State University in May 2014. As an aspiring filmmaker, he hopes to travel the world and explore different cultures.


JOSH BECK graduated with a degree in cinema in the spring of 2014. Josh has been working in film and digital media for over 5 years with a focus on editing and graphic design. Growing up in a small beach town just outside of San Francisco, Josh has gained a unique perspective on the divergent cultural stimuli found in a big city and a small town and has developed a distinct vocabulary for incorporating both urban and rural influences in his films.


GEORGINA SAVAGE is a young independent filmmaker from Melbourne, Australia. Her first documentary, titled Gracia (2012), about a Chilean immigrant living in a public housing estate in Melbourne, featured in the Antenna Documentary Film Festival as a part of the Australian Shorts category. Georgina's works are largely observational with a high emphasis on cinematography. She focuses on personal portraits that take place in minority communities. She has a passion for travel, spending time across Europe, Asia, Africa, India and more recently, the United States. It is through her travels that she meets and develops connections with these communities. She graduated with a Bachelor of Film and Television from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne in 2014.


    Learn about Documentary for Health & Social Justice and how to get involved.


      *The information on these pages is provided by the student film makers and does not represent an endorsement or verification of statements from the Health Equity Institute