November 14, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Read this article (Dallas Morning News, 11/11/14). In all probability, it’s not very important to your life because it’s about the condition of children in just five counties near Dallas, Texas. Chances are you don’t live in or near any of those counties, so what the article says may not seem particularly vital to you. But read it anyway. And when you do, keep one term in mind, “single parenthood.”
The term doesn’t appear anywhere in the article and the concept would likely occur to no one reading it. That’s why I want you to keep it in mind – because the writer didn’t. And neither did the speakers at the community symposium on children’s health at the Children’s Health Center in Plano near Dallas about which the article is written. The focus of the symposium was a new study of children’s health in those five counties. Conducted by the Children’s Health System of Texas and the Institute for Urban Policy Research at the University of Texas at Dallas, it contains some remarkable findings. For example,
[T]he population of children in Collin, Denton, Cooke, Grayson and Fannin counties grew by 48 percent between 2000 and 2012. But the poverty rate among children in those counties more than doubled, up 111 percent over the same period…
While the percentage of children without health insurance declined slightly from 2008 to 2012, mostly through growth in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid, Durovich noted the number of children renewing their coverage is down. Texas ranks third-worst in the U.S. with 16 percent of children lacking any health insurance.
Education remains a concern. The percentage of students graduating from high school is up, Durovich said, but only half of graduates from Fannin and Cooke counties and two-thirds to three-quarters from Collin, Denton and Grayson are deemed “college ready.”
More kids are enrolled in pre-K programs, but third-grade reading levels have dropped, he said…
State Child Protective Services caseloads have fallen to 17.7 per caseworker, but that’s still well above the recommended load of 12.
You get the picture - increasing populations, skyrocketing rates of poverty, declining education, poorer health, child abuse and neglect. Now where have we seen those problems before? That’s right, they’re all strongly associated with single-parent households. In studies of single-parent households, problems of poverty, poor educational and health outcomes and abuse and neglect of children are invariably front and center, along with a bevy of others.
So isn’t it interesting that the people attending the symposium, who are all serious students of the problems children face and who are deeply concerned and dedicated to making things better for kids, never mentioned the words “single parenthood?” It’s a problem I’ve discussed many times. In this country, some 41% of children are born out of wedlock and about a third of children have no contact with their fathers. The rate of out-of-wedlock childbearing increased from about 30% in 1990 to almost 41% today, meaning that a large chunk of a generation of children has been raised either without a father or with only the most tenuous contacts with him.
That in turn means that those kids grow up without his presence in the household and with little or none of his income. So, as we know, children in single-parent households are about seven times as likely as children in intact families to live in poverty. And as ever, poverty brings with it a host of other ills, some of which were the subject of the community symposium reported on by the Morning News.
What all that means is that one of the lynchpins of the many problems besetting kids in this country is the type of family in which they grow up. Those in intact families start out and continue far ahead of those with a single parent. I don’t mean to suggest that if we solve the problem of single-parenting of children we’ll completely solve the problems of poverty, poor health, poor education, etc. But single parent households are one of the lynchpins; they’re a nexus at which many, many serious social problems meet. Solve the problem of single-parenting and we’ll strike a blow at an array of problems that includes, but extends far beyond, those discussed at the community symposium.
But at that symposium, not a word was spoken about family structure or its effects on the problems that rightly trouble the attendees.
And, as night follows day, neither did they discuss family structure as a way to address those problems. After all, if you don’t see it as part of those problems, you’re not likely to discuss reform of family structure as a way to help solve those problems. What the speakers did discuss were pretty much what you’d expect.
Making services available to the people who need them most requires innovation, Bray said, pointing at schools that have washers and dryers “because some kids don’t have clean clothes.”
“It’s great that we’re getting more kids insured,” he said, “but now only half and soon a third of doctors will take Medicaid and CHIP.
“We couldn’t figure out why the percentage of [expectant] mothers getting first-term care in Fannin County is going down,” Bray said. “There are no doctors to serve them.”
Providing medical care to the uninsured is a major focus of Children’s Health Pediatric Group, said Dr. Ray Tsai, president and chief medical officer of the group…
“After-hours care is one of the challenges our patients face,” he said. “We have a lot of families who use our emergency department. A lot of these are working families — they get out of work at 9 p.m., 9:30, and they go home and their 2-year-old has a runny nose and a fever.”
Many of these parents work in service jobs — if they don’t work, they don’t get paid, he said. And if all they have is Medicaid, many neighborhood care centers won’t take them because reimbursement levels are so low.
Lack of available care can mean chronic health problems, he said.
“Many of those children won’t reach their maximum potential because our health care system doesn’t take very good care of them,” Tsai said…
Among the recommendations in “Beyond ABC” are a renter’s bill of rights to improve living conditions for poorer residents, better care for victims of child abuse, improved literacy in schools, and better health care access by reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which is set to end in 2015, said Durovich, of Children’s Health.
See what I mean? A laundry list of problems, all of which and more would be addressed by improving the family structures in which kids grow up. And another laundry list of programs aimed at treating the symptoms of a disease called single parenthood.
To read the article is to be impressed with the sincerity of the symposium attendees and at the same time their utter lack of understanding of the role families play in creating the problems that give rise to that concern.
Look also at both the proposed solutions and at the barriers to those solutions. The solutions proposed are more programs that would decrease the number of Americans without health insurance, expand Medicaid eligibility, increase Medicaid and CHIP reimbursements, improved housing, expand care of child abuse victims, expand literacy programs, etc. All of that is well-intended, but more governmental programs require greater funding from government coffers that are already filled only with IOUs.
But making sure children have two parents in their lives is close to free. In family courts, it would require only that judges write different words on the orders they issue. Yes, we’d probably need to spend some money to teach both men and women, boys and girls that children need both parents, that the decision to have a child is a decision to care for that child to adulthood. And we’d have to pass and enforce some laws giving men the right to know who their children are and that they’ve been brought into the world.
But by comparison to ever expanding programs to attempt (and usually fail) to solve problems as various as children’s health, educational issues, crime, drug and alcohol abuse, chronic unemployment, poverty and the like, the simple fix of fixing families comes comparatively free of charge. In fact, we’d end up saving vast sums because all those problems would require far less intervention by governments than they do now.
Equal parenting advocates must make common cause with people like the ones at the symposium. Our issues are their issues; our solutions are theirs as well.
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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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