Sunday, August 14, 2022

Fatherhood and Enforcement…

June 30, 2011 by  
Filed under Fatherhood, Misc., News, Opinion, Relationships, Weekly Columns

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( As our nation celebrated the importance of fathers nearly 2 weeks ago, and now it’s a good time to reflect on how we show them love in the policies we create. And there is no greater place to do that than in the federal government’s Child Support Enforcement program, which needs to make a 180-degree turn from unfairly persecuting our country’s poorest men to actually helping their families through:

  • Ending punishments for men who are too poor to pay
  • Emphasizing employment assistance for those in need
  • Greatly expanding current token efforts focused on visitation

In recent years, there has been a new focus on federally funded fatherhood programs that provide parenting support and, at times, employment help. Yet those efforts are dwarfed by the $5.8 billion spent on the Child Support Enforcement program, which reaches the parents of 17.5 million children  and half of all poor children. This is the program most likely to be engaging with low-income fathers.

Many of these men are facing great barriers to employment, some brought about by the current economy, and the system must do a better job of understanding their problems. Visitation is also key because low-income parents are often being locked out of systems that allow them to establish visitation arrangements (historically, visitation has been a minor focus of the child support enforcement agencies). Federal efforts in this area must be drastically expanded.

When the child support system works correctly, it plays a valuable role, assessing how much fathers can afford to pay, establishing unambiguous orders, ensuring funds are available for childrearing, and aggressively going after those who inexcusably simply don’t want to pay. It’s an advisable, almost necessary function, even if at times it’s not the most pleasant activity. Somewhat like developing a will or a prenuptial agreement for a person of great wealth, child support orders clearly define legal relationships and help avoid future misunderstandings and disagreements.

Even as the system works well for the majority of its families, it sometimes fails the poorest, and takes a form that is not a part of this ideal. Child support enforcement efforts can punish the poor for being poor and, ironically, make it difficult for them to work and provide for their children.

Men who are least likely to pay are the poorest–they are half of the debtors and responsible for 70 percent of back debts waiting to be collected. Many are experiencing hardships tied to their inability to find work in the current economy–earlier this year, child support agencies reported that the amount of collections intercepted from unemployment insurance checks nearly tripled by 2009. And we know that there must be still others who are looking for work and for various reasons don’t even qualify for unemployment benefits.

The consequences can include imprisonment, loss of a driver’s license necessary to maintain employment, wage garnishment, and public humiliation as your photo may be published in newspapers and on television. In short, our federal child support enforcement policies can make being both poor and a father into the severest of punishments.

One possible side effect may be to damage a father’s relationships with the source of his stress–the mother of his children and his children–relationships that are valuable to positive childhood outcomes. This ruins not only Father’s Day for these families but countless other days as well.

At a minimum, we must ensure the child support enforcement system acts fairly, which does not mean excusing men of their responsibilities but being realistic about what they can afford to pay. In recent years, some government agencies have made progress in ensuring they establish orders that are actually affordable for fathers, and that can be more easily adjusted as employment circumstances change. But an even more heavy-handed approach is necessary to fully eradicate the problem of orders exceeding a father’s ability to pay.

Still more radical changes could ensure the agencies not only better serve families but do a better job of fulfilling their mission of supporting families featuring a dad living apart from his children. Men who are employed can pay support and data indicate that men who see their children are more likely to pay support. Focusing on these concerns will require agencies to make a culture shift from persecuting men for being poor to better serving families. Such sea changes in government agencies (or any type of organization or company for that matter) is never easy but it must be done if we truly want to improve outcomes for children.

Written By Joy Moses


2 Responses to “Fatherhood and Enforcement…”
  1. Dad 4 Life says:

    That was quite refreshing……I am amazed…..That perspective actually came from a woman of today. Thought you all were dinosaurs….I guess there IS hope. Wonderful response!! Wonderful!!

  2. natalienjackson says:

    Thank you for finally speaking to an issue that needs to be addressed!

    “Accountability and compassion must go hand in hand. Accountability without compassion is ruthless. It is what we more often direct at men. It is respecting men but not loving them. Compassion without accountability is infantilizing. It is what we more often direct at women. It is loving women but not respecting them.”

    The next part of the discussion should pivot towards the reproductive rights of men. I have advocated for womens right to “choose” for twenty plus years and some of my greatest allies in the trenches fighting for our reproductive rights have been men that would give their lives for this cause. These same men that fight along side us have their own reproductive rights disregarded by the very women for whom they fight..Women that enjoy the rights but that I rarely see actively engaged in the fight. With these great rights comes even greater responsibilities and it is long past time that we as women embrace the idea of “our body, our choice”…OUR RESPONSIBILITY!

    There is a direct link between fatherlessness in our community and our attitudes as it relates to the 20+ birth control options available to us. We cannot continue to reduce fatherlessness in our community simply to a mans needs to “wrap up”, “man up” etc while absolving ourselves of any responsibility for the current crisis. We took an aggressive pivot towards destigmatizing unwed motherhood choosing rather to empower with the all encompassing term “single mother” In 2011 unwed motherhood is a “choice” and yet we continue to lay blame at the feet of men. Amazing to me the hyprocrisy of the idea that if a child attends college in spite of the “circumstances” (translation “deadbeat dad”) it is a testament to the strength and abilities of a strong single mother and should the same child have ended up incarecerated it is due to fatherlessness?

    The top two reasons that men in oow childbirth walk are the same two reasons that women walk (abort, put up for aoption, etc) Men are told to “man up” while we compassionately “lay out the options” that our daughters have should they not desire to have their lifes course altered by unwanted pregnancy. I wish that this would become more apart of the mainstream discussion as it is time to really change the course of the strategy because the one that we have been on for decades in our community will only inch us closer to an illigitimacy rate of 9 in 10. Time to have a real, balanced conversation about this issue. As women we were empowered in a way that has allowed for our role to evolve while we conctinue to expect mens role to remain the same.

    It is very interesting that we have fought for greater independence, bodily autonomy, and a general right to “stand on our own and do it our way” but we have expected men to remain in their role as (the chivalrous protector, provider, etc.) Until our society addresses the issue of male disposability we will never solve this problem or others. We can no assign utilitarian values to men where we love them not for who they are, but rather what they can do for us, especially since now we can “do for ourselves” (sarcasm) The lack of balance and a willingness to speak honestly and with compassion about the experiences of men has expedited the deterioration of family, man/woman relationshis and our community as a whole. Traditional values were once man+woman+child and it has evolved into woman+child+child+child support. I was reluctant ten years ago to buy into the idea of many of “child support and the best interest of the child” as an acceptance and incentive for oow childbirth.

    Having observed the crisis worsen I wouldnt dismiss the idea as I once may have. We cannot continue to have the dichotomy where we have declarations of independence and bodily autonomy while embracing the idea of ourselves and our children as the victim of the ill intended black man. Are there jerks that are intentional in their desire to spread their seed everywhere? Yes! But the vast majority of these preventable unwanted pregnancies where we have all the choices available to us pre-conception and post-conception are a major contributor to the fatherlessness crisis. Sad because The contract for fatherhood was once a marriage license.

    We focus on how irresponsible men are post-conception as it allows us receive unwarranted compassion and absolve ourselves of responsibility because we know that if there was a shift in focus to pre-conception responsibility our community and society as a whole would condemn us as they have the “deadbeat dad” (feminist constructed term).

    We can all the initiatives the heart desires but until black leaders, clergy and our “BLACK PRESIDENT” is willing to speak “truth” to the women in our community with the same “fire in the belly” that has been directed at our men. If we dont reframe the conversation these fatherhood initiatives will have the same results as other failed government social programs.

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