By Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

[Attachment(s) from Yuri Joakimidis joakimidisyuri@yahoo.com.au [euro-dads] included below]

https://www.nationalparentsorganization.org/recent-articles?id=22102

 Following up on my post of yesterday… There I made the point that we can’t seriously expect fathers to act the part of dedicated, selfless parents when our culture simmers in a toxic stew of anti-dad messages. Amazingly, even with all the obstacles placed between men and full parenthood, the overwhelming majority of dads manage to play that role anyway, or at least try to. From before a child is conceived all the way through its birth and childhood, we tell fathers in countless ways that there’s only one way in which they matter—as a source of cash. Again and again, directly and indirectly, we say to fathers “You don’t matter” and “Now pay Mom.” Having done that, we then pretend to be outraged when fathers act in conformity with those messages.

 

How many times have we heard women complain that he doesn’t take an equal part in the hands-on childrearing? Yes, that’s often because he’s at work earning the money to pay the rent, buy the food, pay the electric bill, the doctor bills, buy the clothes, school supplies, etc. In short, he’s just doing his job, the one he’s historically been told to do and the one we still say is all he’s good for.

Just the way we treat child support and visitation says all we need to know on the subject, but of course there are countless other examples. We know that non-custodial parents whose visitation isn’t interfered with are much more likely to pay child support than those who have difficulty seeing their kids. So, given that we want fathers to support their kids, the obvious thing to do would be to enforce visitation orders as vigorously as we do child support orders. But we do nothing of the kind. We allow the most draconian enforcement mechanisms imaginable for child support orders, all the way up to and including jailing dads without the assistance of counsel in five-minute hearings.

 

Visitation? Not so much. As just about any non-custodial parent can tell you, it’s like pulling the judge’s teeth to get any help enforcing a visitation order. It usually takes at least a couple of years and several court hearings before anything is done. Contempt of court by custodial parents is winked at. In Australia, it’s worse.  There the official written policy of family courts is to not enforce orders of access. Coincidentally, 90% of those who supposedly benefit from those orders are fathers.

 

And, as I’ve said many times, it’s not just fathers who suffer; children and mothers do too.

 

Which brings us to this fine article by Neil Lyndon (Telegraph, 12/12/14). It seems he and others, including the always excellent Kathryn Edin have noticed the same things.

 

Fathers who aren’t living with their children just don’t count. That’s not a rhetorical exaggeration. It’s an official matter of fact.

 

On the website for Gingerbread — the single parents’ organisation — a page of statistics, based on government data, aims “to tackle the stigma around single parents by dispelling myths and labels.” The first fact itemised there is:

 

Just over a quarter (26 per cent) of households with dependent children are single parent families, and there are two million single parents in Britain today.

 

Gingerbread acknowledge, however, that the only parents they have included in that two million figure are “those with residential care”—which mostly means mothers. About 90% of the children of single parents live for the greater part of the time with their mothers.

 

So, according to official statistics, fathers who aren’t married simply don’t exist. Why? Because they’ve been shoved out of their children’s lives by the same government that gathers the statistics. Of course, if we were talking about child support, then they’d exist all too clearly. A loving, caring father? No big deal. A wallet? Ah, that’s a different matter.

 

Kathryn Edin gets the point, as she usually does.

 

Those observations are reinforced by Kathryn Edin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University who has spent years researching the ways poor American men deal with with being unmarried parents. “Child support,” she says, “is a remnant of the days when we used to think that dads didn’t matter. With our right hand we’ve pushed these men away; we’ve said, ‘You’re worthless.’ With our left hand we’re picking his pocket….That’s how it feels to him.”

 

Now, few would argue that being defined out of the category of “single parents” is, by itself of much importance. It’s a niggling irritation. But of course it’s not “by itself.” If we cared enough about fathers to keep them in their children’s lives post-divorce, no one would complain about the government definition of single parent. But 90% of parents shoved out of their children’s lives by divorce are fathers and, just in case someone missed the point, they’re given “rights of access” that go unenforced. How could the message be plainer?

 

A complex, thoughtful article by Ruth Graham in the Boston Globe recently dug deep questions into this ethos.

Showing that the present official set-up and our social attitudes date from 40 years ago — when most mothers stayed at home all the time and most men went out to work — Graham argues that “the system needs an update, not only to be fair to adults but to avoid hurting the children whose interests it is supposed to serve”.

 

Oh yes, the kids. We forgot about them. It’s a point I’ve made countless times — courts tell us they’re acting in the best interests of children, but they’re not. If they were, they’d be ordering equal or substantially equal custody in just about every case. But, as Graham remarks, the 2014 child custody system is stuck back in 1954.

 

Well, not really. It would be stuck back there except it’s “progressed” by, instead of assuming that every father is Ward Cleaver, assuming that every father is Jeffrey Dahmer. Judges are all too ready to believe that fathers want nothing more than to avoid seeing or supporting their children and that, if Mom cries “abuse,” then something must have happened to warrant marginalizing Dad in his kids’ lives.

 

And, as I and others have said before, putting all the child care burden on Mom is not exactly doing her any favors.

 

In America, she writes, almost a third of all children of single parents are in households below the poverty line and their fathers, too, are poor.

 

Actually, that figure is incorrect. As Sara McLanahan recently reported here, the poverty rate for single mothers in the U.S. is 40%, and there aren’t enough single fathers with children to bring down the total very much.

 

The poverty of custodial mothers of course is visited on their children who, unsurprisingly, tend to manifest the type of mental, psychological, behavioral and educational deficits that are typical of those raised with insufficient resources. That of course is bad for both mothers and children.

 

Kathryn Edin says, “If we give in to the notion that the mom ‘owns’ the child, if that’s the default position, then the mom is also responsible for the child. So then Moms just end up holding the bag for everything, and men are cast out of society. That is a very bad deal for women.”

 

And, just in case you thought the anti-father bias we see so often is in some way a fluke, unintended, unconscious, here’s Neil Lyndon’s experience:

 

The mould for our present attitudes and practices in this country was set in the early 1990s when, as Conservative Minister of State at the Home Office, John Patten, set up the Child Support Agency with the explicitly avowed intention of pursuing and punishing errant, absent “deadbeat dads” who didn’t pay up to support their kids.

 

I wrote in a national newspaper at that time suggesting that non-custodial fathers might be more likely to take an active interest in their children if they were allowed equal rights as parents in family law and if they were accorded recognition, respect and honour in our society at large.

 

The stoniness of the ground on which those counsels fell was laid bare in a meeting in the 1990s between representatives of Families Need Fathers and the then Labour Minister of State at the Home Office, Paul Boateng. Mr Boateng effectively threw the FNF people out of his office with the reproof (as it was reported to me): “I don’t want to hear a word about any disadvantages for fathers until every inequality for women has been eradicated.”

 

Anti-father bias doesn’t get a lot clearer than that.

 

Someday soon we need to start paying attention to the social science on child well-being that teaches us that children do better with two parents in their lives. While we’re at it we could also take note of laws that, in the United States say that the state has no interest in parental decision-making by fit parents and elsewhere that children have a right to the company of their parents. When we do those things, everyone will be better off. Children will be healthier and happier, parents will be better off financially and a host of social ills will have been ameliorated. As a result, the masses of taxpayers’ funds thrown ineffectively in the direction of those problems can be diverted elsewhere, maybe even back to taxpayers.

 

There are plenty of people urging us to wake up, but on we slumber.

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/topics/about-us/3691972/Privacy-and-Cookie-Policy.html

 

Sponsored

Non-dom dads: the forgotten men of single-parent families

 

Official attitudes towards non-custodial fathers are several decades out of date, leaving them effectively cast out of society, writes Neil Lyndon

 

The Telegraph

 

Fathers who aren’t living with their children just don’t count. That’s not a rhetorical exaggeration. It’s an official matter of fact.

 

On the website for Gingerbread – the single parents’ organisation – a page of statistics, based on government data, aims “to tackle the stigma around single parents by dispelling myths and labels.” The first fact itemised there is:

 

Just over a quarter (26 per cent) of households with dependent children are single parent families, and there are two million single parents in Britain today.

 

Gingerbread acknowledge, however, that the only parents they have included in that two million figure are “those with residential care” – which mostly means mothers. About 90% of the children of single parents live for the greater part of the time with their mothers.

 

Why doesn’t Gingerbread count the single parents with whom the children are not living? Since every child must have a mother and a father, it would seem to follow, obviously, that there are not two but four million “single parents in Britain today”.

 

Tackled with these questions, a Gingerbread spokesperson said she believed the organisation was following “the government definition” of a single parent. From which we gather that the Government itself appears to have determined that a non-residential father should not figure in the official reckoning.

 

Such unquestioned presumptions underlie the general attitude towards single-parent families that permeates our age – in which nearly half of all marriages fail and more than 50% of babies are born outside marriage: we act as if only one parent is entitled to be viewed as “the single parent”. No matter how loving and devoted he may be or want to be, a father who does not live with his children will almost certainly find it impossible to be recognised as an equal parent and may have to battle to get information from, for instance, schools or doctors’ practices.

 

A complex, thoughtful article by Ruth Graham in the Boston Globe recently dug deep questions into this ethos.

 

Showing that the present official set-up and our social attitudes date from 40 years ago – when most mothers stayed at home all the time and most men went out to work – Graham argues that “the system needs an update, not only to be fair to adults but to avoid hurting the children whose interests it is supposed to serve”. Fathers who aren’t living with their children are, she says, “overwhelmingly the target of the current system’s narrow focus on collection and enforcement”.

 

In America, she writes, almost a third of all children of single parents are in households below the poverty line and their fathers, too, are poor. They simply cannot afford the child support which is the only contribution to their children’s lives required of them by the system.

 

Those observations are reinforced by Kathryn Edin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University who has spent years researching the ways poor American men deal with with being unmarried parents. “Child support,” she says, “is a remnant of the days when we used to think that dads didn’t matter. With our right hand we’ve pushed these men away; we’ve said, ‘You’re worthless.’ With our left hand we’re picking his pocket….That’s how it feels to him.”

 

The mould for our present attitudes and practices in this country was set in the early 1990s when, as Conservative Minister of State at the Home Office, John Patten, set up the Child Support Agency with the explicitly avowed intention of pursuing and punishing errant, absent “deadbeat dads” who didn’t pay up to support their kids.

 

I wrote in a national newspaper at that time suggesting that non-custodial fathers might be more likely to take an active interest in their children if they were allowed equal rights as parents in family law and if they were accorded recognition, respect and honour in our society at large.

 

The stoniness of the ground on which those counsels fell was laid bare in a meeting in the 1990s between representatives of Families Need Fathers and the then Labour Minister of State at the Home Office, Paul Boateng. Mr Boateng effectively threw the FNF people out of his office with the reproof (as it was reported to me): “I don’t want to hear a word about any disadvantages for fathers until every inequality for women has been eradicated.”

 

That aggressively self-righteous but one-eyed outlook was the view that everybody shared; but, from its lofty moral peak, it made us blind to the disadvantages our age inflicts on single mothers. In my 1992 book No More Sex War (now republished in full in a collection called Sexual Impolitics) I argued that the exclusion of fathers from equal rights of parenthood placed an intolerable burden on women who were expected both to work and to be the sole, full-time parent. Cosmopolitan may have applauded that condition for women as “having it all”. To me, it looked more like the most impoverished and painful of all possible set-ups for mother, father and children.

 

The Boston Globe now echoes that line, criticising “the formal system [which] assumes that the custodial parent is the only one with real authority.”

 

Kathryn Edin says, “If we give in to the notion that the mom ‘owns’ the child, if that’s the default position, then the mom is also responsible for the child. So then Moms just end up holding the bag for everything, and men are cast out of society. That is a very bad deal for women.”

Gingerbread, please note.

http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/12/05/how-deadbeats-can-still-good-dads/EdiXe3spvu7hSOIhDJXWfJ/story.html

 

How ‘deadbeats’ can still be good dads

 

Child support needs to catch up to reflect new roles for fathers, say experts

 

Ruth Graham

 

Globe correspondent December 05, 2014

 

One kind of family is the one in an old greeting-card picture: two parents, one or more kids, all under one roof.

 

But another kind of family has become more and more common over the last several decades. We tend to call it “single parenting,” but it is really better described as an unmarried mother and father living apart, their children, and the government whose laws regulate their relationship.

 

That set of laws is the child-support system, and it covers 17 million American children—about a quarter of them. But that system is nearly 40 years old, established during a different economy, and built on an old model where the mother was the caretaker and the father simply brought home the bacon. Today, a group of critics is saying the system needs an update, not only to be fair to adults but to avoid hurting the children whose interests it is supposed to serve.

 

These critics are particularly focused on the role of fathers, who make up the vast majority of noncustodial parents. Fathers are overwhelmingly the target of the current system’s narrow focus on collection and enforcement. And for middle-class and high-income men, it may make sense to require simply that they pay up or else.

 

But 29 percent of families in the system have income below the federal poverty line, and many more have great trouble making ends meet. Since the system was first put in place, out-of-wedlock births have become less stigmatized and more common, while devastating wage stagnation has hit male workers. As a result, there are legions of low-income fathers far less able to hold up their end of the deal. They may find themselves unable to pay child support, and yet caught in a system that expects nothing else from them.

 

“Child support is a remnant of the days when we used to think that dads didn’t matter,” said Kathryn Edin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University who has spent years researching the ways poor American men cope with unmarried parenting. “With our right hand we’ve pushed these men away; we’ve said, ‘You’re worthless.’ With our left hand we’re picking his pocket….That’s how it feels to him.”

 

Today, Edin is one of a growing number of academics and policy makers looking at struggling families in the 21st century and concluding that the child-support system needs to do better. They envision a system that would more closely link providing and parenting, and would take a more pragmatic view toward the ability of disenfranchised men to come up with money they simply don’t have, while still benefiting the children the system is designed to serve. What exactly would that look like—and what would it take to make it a reality?

 

If forced to choose between child-support payments and buying diapers and winter coats, many fathers will go for the option that looks more like parenting than taxation.

 


The child-support system as we know it dates to the 1970s. It was originally a bipartisan policy reform, designed primarily to serve a population of parents who were divorced and steadily employed. Divorce meant there had been a marriage in the first place, and that custody agreements had likely been worked out. Steady employment meant the system could garnish wages directly from a parent’s paycheck if necessary.

 

Today, however, the lives of many low-income parents look dramatically different. Marriage rates among the poor have plummeted, so there often is no divorce to provide a formal structure for parents’ responsibilities. And employment prospects for men with low education are dismal. “We have a 1970s narrative about a 2010s reality,” Edin said. 

A central character in that narrative is the “deadbeat dad,” a figure who emerged in American culture in the 1980s. One moment served as a catalyst: In 1986, Bill Moyers interviewed a New Jersey father of six named Timothy McSeed for a CBS report titled “The Vanishing Family: Crisis in Black America.” McSeed bragged on camera about his “strong sperm,” and cheerfully admitted he didn’t support any of his children financially because “I’m not doing what the government does.” Editorial columnists seized on the shocking interview, and the segment went viral in a time when that meant more than a few easy clicks: Requests for the tape poured into CBS, including an order for all 7,500 schools in the California public school system. CBS News said it was the largest-ever demand for one of its products.

 

 

With this cartoonish bogeyman looming over the cultural and political landscape, the child-support system focused on collection and enforcement. Shortly afterward, Congress passed a law forcing states to be stricter about collecting past child-support debts. The approach was bolstered intellectually by a 1979 book by a University of Michigan law professor, “Making Fathers Pay,” which argued that aggressive enforcement measures, including incarceration, could corral deadbeats into complying with child-support orders. In 1996, President Clinton’s welfare reform act again strengthened the government’s enforcement powers against noncustodial parents.

 

There have always been, and will always be, some fathers who are not interested in fathering, and who would never help out if the law didn’t force them to. But recent research by sociologists and others who work with low-income fathers suggests that is far from typical. For their poignant 2013 book “Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City,” Edin and coauthor Timothy Nelson conducted wide-ranging interviews with 110 low-income fathers in and around Philadelphia over the course of seven years. They found the majority of men were thrilled to become fathers, even though the pregnancies were rarely planned and their romantic relationships and employment situations were often unstable.

 

Overwhelmingly, Edin and other sociologists have reported, 21st-century fathers do intend to provide for their children. Many of them fail, in the financial sense. But what Edin found, encouragingly, is that with few opportunities to succeed financially, many have crafted new definitions of what exactly it means to be a good father: emotional availability, consistent commitment, and direct fulfillment of their children’s concrete needs and desires. As one father told Edin, “That’s what kept me going in prison, knowing that I had to come out and be there for them.” Although low-income fathers remain much less studied than mothers, other researchers have found similar enthusiasm for parenting. In her 2002 book, “My Baby’s Father: Unmarried Parents and Paternal Responsibility,” Maureen Waller, an associate professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University, interviewed both men and women who agreed that a father’s economic support was necessary but insufficient to qualify him as a good parent.

 

If forced to choose between child-support payments and buying diapers and winter coats, many fathers will go for the option that looks more like parenting than taxation. That may be particularly true in cases where a mother is on welfare, because then the father’s child-support payment typically goes directly to the state, sometimes with a token amount “passed through” to the mother and child. “Dads talk about that conundrum,” said Ronald Mincy, a professor of social work at Columbia University and coauthor of the forthcoming book “Failing Our Fathers: Confronting the Crisis of Economically Vulnerable Nonresident Fathers.” “They have to choose between meeting the formal order on the one hand and meeting the child’s informal needs.” If they choose the latter, they become “deadbeats” in the eyes of the law.

 

Yet researchers say that both mothers and fathers tend to prefer informal agreements, all things considered. If their relationship crumbles—trust is often low to begin with—or if the father gets distracted by a new family, informal agreements can disintegrate, so the formal child-support system is a crucial safety net for mothers and children. But it’s also a system that can alienate fathers from their children, sometimes by literally putting them in jail. Even the burden of debt can be enough to drive a wedge: Waller’s ongoing research suggests that men with outstanding child-support debts have less contact and involvement with their children.

 

Though mothers undoubtedly have benefited from the child-support system, there’s also a case to be made that they are its victims in a way, too. Unlike parents themselves, the formal system assumes that the custodial parent is the only one with real authority. “If we give in to the notion that the mom ‘owns’ the child, if that’s the default position, then the mom is also responsible for the child,” Edin said. “Moms just end up holding the bag for everything, and men are cast out of society. That is a very bad deal for women.”

 

Over the years, the child support system has improved in one measurable way: enforcement. “The reach of the child-support program, it’s stronger than the IRS in some ways,” said Jessica Pearson, who directs the Center for Policy Research and has been studying child-support policy since the 1980s. The Federal Parent Locator Service draws on national databases to track down noncustodial parents and enforce payments; in fiscal year 2013, state (and tribal) programs collected $32 billion in child support, and the amount distributed has been steadily rising for years.

 

That’s good news for the families who have received this money. But more than $100 billion in child-support payments are still in arrears, and research suggests that most of that is essentially uncollectible because the fathers simply do not have the money. (About a quarter of that money is owed to the government.)

 

Would a more enlightened system—one focused less on enforcement, and more on involvement—do a better job of keeping eager fathers involved with their children? If so, it would mean broadening the state’s approach from one that is primarily punitive to one that works with fathers, presuming that most of them want to be good parents.

 

Some small signs of progress seem to be on the horizon. Last month, the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement began circulating a 41-page list of proposed new regulations to modernize the child-support program. (Child support programs are administered by states, but the federal government influences state policy and how it is implemented.) The new rules would make changes like allowing states to spend federal child-support dollars on employment and training programs for fathers. Crucially, they also encourage states to take into account a man’s basic cost of living before making child-support calculations.

 

Scholars who work with low-income families all have their own favorite ways they would like to see the system change. Waller mentions limiting retroactive debts and revising policies on how states handle interest payments. Mincy would like to see the Earned Income Tax Credit extended more generously to noncustodial parents. Job training for fathers is another big focus: Small studies in New York and Texas have shown that if the state provides training for men who haven’t been able to pay child support, they are likelier to begin to comply. And almost everyone laments the fact that some states treat incarceration as “voluntary unemployment,” so child-support debts often balloon while men are in prison.

 

Experts also have ambitious ideas about how the system could help incorporate fathers into the lives of their children. Some would like to connect child-support and visitation agreements for never-married parents, the way that divorce court does. Some jurisdictions have experimented with versions of “coparenting court” to help unmarried parents negotiate a more complex agreement that covers more than just check-writing.

 

And language matters, too. Edin bemoans the widespread use of the term “single mother,” and the way that many government poverty programs are oriented solely around mothers and children. In fact, mothers who are truly single are vanishingly rare: In one way or another, fathers and boyfriends are almost always integral parts of the picture, and those relationships are assets we would do better to strengthen than ignore. She’d like to see researchers and policy makers adopt another phrase, one she hopes would remind us how many lives are at stake in all these arrangements. The term she prefers: “Complex fragile family.”

 

 

 

Leave a Reply