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March 30, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

It’s not just family courts that marginalize fathers in the lives of their children. This article shows that parenting programs do too (Deseret News, 3/29/15). Parenting programs are provided in a wide variety of contexts. Juvenile parents may take parenting classes, as may those suspected of abuse or neglect, new parents, adoptive parents, and many others. But new research demonstrates that those programs are biased against fathers, often from the outset.

"Overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates the unique and important role that fathers play in their children’s development. The effects are profound and wide-ranging, in terms of children’s biological, physiological, and psychological wellbeing, as well as in their behavioral, social, and educational outcomes throughout infancy, childhood, and adolescence, even into adulthood. Fathers make a difference when it comes to children’s survival, self-esteem, academic performance, emotional and behavioral problems, substance misuse, criminality and delinquency, peer relationships, sexual partnerships, and economic prospects, as well as their capacity for empathy and life satisfaction," wrote Catherine Panter-Brick, from the Yale School of Public Health, on the Child and Family blog.

As she and colleagues examined parenting programs, they found seven barriers to effectively bringing in fathers: "cultural, institutional, professional, operational, content, resource, and policy biases." Those "work to marginalize fathers from the outset in the design of parenting programs," she wrote.

In short, even if a motivated father wants to become a better parent, he may find the educational and training those programs offer closed to him. And keep in mind, what Panter-Brick and her colleagues found was a worldwide phenomenon. In country after country, anti-dad/pro-mom biases serve as barriers to fathers’ full involvement with their children. That’s true even in programs whose purpose is to teach parenting skills.

And, having kept fathers from parenting programs, those very programs find they don’t know what works to best educate fathers about caring for their children. That’s hardly surprising. When there’s no data to collect, there’s no data collected.

Besides marginalizing the role that fathers play in family life and its importance, the reviewers concluded, the programs also provided less evidence on what works to involve fathers, for that very reason. Panter-Brick and others suggest that programs should make a much greater effort to engage both mothers and fathers so children will reap the greatest benefit.

But the Deseret article doesn’t stop there. It quotes a representative of the National Fatherhood Initiative to the same effect that I’ve been arguing for years — that single-parenthood creates a host of social problems that governments and taxpayers struggle to address, usually ineffectively.

According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, "Many people are surprised at what research shows with respect to the connection between father absence and an increase in social problems in America, including poverty, teen pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, physical abuse, suicide, substance and alcohol abuse and a host of other troubling social problems. The sad fact is that not only does father absence hurt children, fathers suffer as well."

How much do we spend on programs that seek to treat the symptoms of a disease known as fatherlessness, but not fatherlessness itself? And of course, since we’re not getting at the cause, those programs tend to be ineffective and our tax money wasted. The answer is clear for all to see, but, as Panter-Brick said, “cultural, institutional, professional, operational, content, resource and policy biases” intervene to keep fathers out of children’s lives. They do so to the detriment of all.

What the article and the National Fatherhood Initiative leave out is the profound detrimental effects fatherlessness has on mothers. The stress alone of trying to provide 100% of a child’s needs while holding down a job are immense. But more than that, mothers with sole or primary custody are unable to work as much, earn as much, get promoted as much or save as much as mothers with a partner. That means they’re closer to the poverty line than they’d otherwise be and that includes retirement where they have lower savings levels and thus lower standards of living.

Of course this is anti-father bias at work. If our culture were different and we had an anti-mother bias that left moms out of their children’s lives, the kids, our society and our governmental budget would all suffer equally. The simple fact is that kids need both parents to achieve optimally and be as healthy as they can be.

The further fact is that countless policies on the part of governments and the private sector all work together to ensure that, to an astonishing degree, kids have only a single parent. It’s hard to describe just how nonsensical that particular brand of toxic policy-making is.

There is no way to justify it, but on we go. Day after day passes and the interests that feed off the dysfunction of fatherlessness continue to oppose equal parenting legislation. Family lawyers are happy to make their BMW payments off the parental conflict our current system of parenting time encourages. Domestic violence activists, funded almost exclusively from taxpayers’ coffers, oppose even minor moves toward equal parenting. They do so on the shakiest of notions — that fathers tend to be abusive of their children and therefore, should be denied meaningful time with them.

Last year’s study of Nebraska child custody cases revealed that abuse is even alleged in only about 6% of cases, scarcely enough to base an anti-dad policy on. And of course some of those allegations were made by fathers against mothers. And still more were groundless when they were made. But the DV establishment goes about its business of lobbying against any and every proposed improvement in children’s ability to see their fathers.

And, speaking of lobbying, at least some of that opposition looks very much to be illegal. Federal law is quite clear: efforts to influence legislation by recipients of government grants violate the law and are punishable by penalties of up to $100,000 per occurrence. But so dedicated are DV organizations to keeping fathers out of children’s lives that some go ahead and lobby state legislatures anyway, no matter the clear dictates of the law.

It’s long past time for a sea change in the way we treat children. Those who stand against what Panter-Brick accurately called the “overwhelming scientific evidence” stand against both the well-being of children and the arc of history. It’s time they got out of the way and allowed the welfare of everyone — children, mothers, fathers, society generally and the public purse — to improve.

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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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