January 20, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
It’s always an education to read about “responsible fatherhood” programs. They’re part of the Office of Child Support Enforcement’s effort to deal more realistically with parents who are behind on their child support payments. We hear about the OCSE’s allowing states to be more “flexible” in their approach to those parents. Stated another way, we’ve finally figured out that draconian measures like incarceration, loss of a license to drive or other occupational licenses don’t exactly make sense given that they make paying harder not easier.
Now, whenever I hear the term “responsible fatherhood,” or, in the instant case, “parental accountability,” I immediately think “child support.” Whenever fathers are referred to as “responsible” or “irresponsible,” it’s generally a safe bet that what is meant is “money.” Has he paid or not? That is the question and all others either aren’t asked or are ignored.
So fact number one about RF programs is that they invariably see men as little or nothing more than a source of income for Mom and a child. That there might be more to “responsible fatherhood” is simply not part of the discussion and once again that’s true in the linked-to article.
Led by Superior Court Judge Jim Wilbanks, the Conasauga Judicial Circuit celebrated its Parental Accountability Court Kick Off Ceremony in December.
The Conasauga Parental Accountability Court program – which is a joint effort of the Georgia Department of Human Services Division of Child Support Services and Judge Wilbanks – was created to strengthen families in our community.
And how do they “strengthen families?”
"The program offers an alternative to incarceration and helps chronic non-payers of child support make regular payments by utilizing community resources to address barriers that keep parents from meeting their support obligations,” Judge Wilbanks said.
Using this approach, the PAC works to increase child support collections, reduce reliance on public assistance, and avoid incarceration costs.
So in fact, the concept of “strengthening families” as applied by the PAC is to get more money from Dad so the state can spend less on mothers via Temporary Aid to Needy Families and less on fathers for incarceration. That there might be other constructive ways to “strengthen families” appears nowhere on the radar screen of Judge Wilbanks or the PAC.
The PAC is all about the money.
Many services are offered to PAC participants, including volunteer community service, work opportunities, literacy training, job assistance, mental health services, clinical assessments, substance abuse treatment, and mentoring.
Participants must meet their child support obligations for a minimum of six consecutive months to graduate from the program.
Now, I don’t gripe about any of that. Children do need the support of both their parents and any effort to improve a non-custodial parent’s ability to get help finding or keeping a job, treatment for substance abuse, learning to read and write, I’m all for.
But the question “Why is this program so limited?” screams to be asked. After all, where is the assistance for fathers who want to see more of their kids? This program is aimed at parents who may not be literate, who don’t have a job and need training. What are the chances they have the money to hire a lawyer to get a court order of visitation or enforce the one they have? Zip. But the RF program does nothing to address those needs.
The impetus for my piece last year was a study done for the Administration for Children and Families (of which the OCSE is part). Those studies are enlightening. It turns out that, among the fathers studied, their overwhelming motivation for taking part in the RF programs was so they could see more of their kids.
But whereas the focus of the RF programs was mostly child support, the men’s was different; above all, they wanted an improved relationship with their children. For all four of the programs studied, comprising over 4,000 fathers, 60% said their motivation for joining the program was “improve relationship with children,” 35% said “improve job situation” and 5% said “improve relationship with children’s mother.”
In short, while RF programs see dads first last and always as sources of cash, the men see themselves most importantly as fathers. That’s a major disconnection between the fathers and the programs.
The Georgia program does nothing to help men establish their parental rights or enforce them. There’s no offer of advice, no access to an attorney, nothing. The PAC program claims to be about “strengthening families,” but wouldn’t one good way to do that be to facilitate father-child interaction? But again the PAC offers these men nothing to promote that, despite its being the most important thing to them.
Someday some bureaucrat will wake up and realize that bemoaning lack of father involvement in children’s lives while treating fathers as nothing but walking wallets doesn’t make a lot of sense. Dads aren’t stupid; when they see that they’re nothing but sources of income to mothers and the state, is it any surprise when they tend to act that way?
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
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