Family advocate Joe Jones on the importance of keeping Dad in the picture

November 3, 2009

Joe Jones knows what it’s like to have a father—and to lose him. Jones spent the first nine years of his life living with his mother and father, who tag-teamed on childrearing while training to become a nurse and a teacher, respectively.

That changed when his parents divorced, and Jones and his mother moved to West Baltimore. He started running with a pack of older kids who were dealing and using drugs. “Not having my father in the household anymore, only having limited contact with him,” he says, “my image of what life was transitioned from that cocoon environment with both my parents to this street culture environment.” By 13, he was using and selling heroin. His addiction to heroin and cocaine would last for seventeen years, during which he would spin in and out of prison.

Since getting clean in 1986, Jones has rededicated his life to another calling: patching wayward fathers back into the families they helped create. He was the driving force behind the Baltimore City Health Department’s Men’s Services program as well as a local affiliate of the national STRIVE employment services program. In 1999, he founded the nonprofit Centers for Fathers, Families and Workforce Development, since renamed the Center for Urban Families. The organization provides services ranging from childcare to job training, all aimed at helping fathers provide for, and remain a part of, their families. Jones was a member of President Bill Clinton’s Work Group on Welfare Reform and currently serves on President Barack Obama’s Taskforce on Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families, as well as on several local and national boards of directors.

“When we think about the way in which we have designed interventions for families in our country, it really is code for ‘women and children,’” Jones says.

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