Good afternoon. It is terrific to be here. The main focus of the Childrens Rights Council, a global 24 year old child advocacy organization, is on assuring that children of divorced, separated and never-married parents have access to both parents and extended family. But we delight in working with Dr. Jeffery Johnson, head of NPCL, Joe Jones, head of the Center for Urban Families, Dr. Ron Mincy of Columbia University, and other national leaders in the fatherhood movement.
The children and fatherhood movements have been largely defined for the past 25 years by two words child support. And when the government talks about child support, what is the one word they mean? Financial. But there is another aspect to child support, which is called emotional child support, or parenting. Whenever I talk to a member of Congress, a reporter, or someone who contacts the Childrens Rights Council for help, and they mention the subject of child support, I often ask them which aspect of child support are you talking about, financial or emotional? At first, they respond quizzically, not understanding what I am talking about. But the moment I start to explain, they get it.
They know the importance of parenting on the lives of our nations children.
In national polls of ordinary citizens, father absence has been repeatedly called the biggest domestic problem facing our country.
When the New York Times carried an op-ed piece a few weeks ago describing five ways to improve high school outcomes for children, the article did not once mention father absence. So I wrote a letter to the New York Times, mentioning that 71 percent of high school drop-outs were raised in fatherless homes. The New York Times did not print my letter.
When I mentioned this to Joshua DuBois, President Obamas faith-based and fatherhood advisor at a briefing on the new Fatherhood bill being introduced in Congress, DuBois said that the New York Times is not the only one that doesnt get it.
The truth is that when fathers are absent from childrens lives, children are not only more likely to drop out of high school, they are also more likely to become involved in drugs, crime, and gangs. CRC and its chapters in the U.S.and abroad know that children need both moms AND dads.
If this is true, then why is the government only focused on financial child support? Guess how much the child support office in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spends to collect financial child support? Four billion dollars. Now guess how much the government spends to connect children to their non-custodial parents in the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, in the form of parenting education, parenting plans, counseling, mediation, and neutral drop-off and pick-up centers and supervised access (visitation) centers for children. Just ten million dollars a year. That is a 400 to 1 disparity.
But does the government really believe that collecting money is 400 times more important than encouraging and supporting parenting? I hope not, but in Washington, there are certain famous sayings. one saying is by Harry Truman, who, commenting on the vagaries of Washingtonpolitics, said that If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. Well, other politicians have noted truly that if you want to learn about policy priorities, follow the money trail. When the government spends virtually all of the taxpayers' money on financial child support and virtually nothing on parenting, you know where the governments priorities are.
Father absence is not caused primarily by fathers, any more than slavery was caused by blacks or second class status for women was caused by women.
True, some fathers are absent by choice, but a speaker a few minutes ago, Alicia Crowe, is the first time I have heard anyone other than the Childrens Rights Council and the originator of the phrase in 1998, writer Gail Sheehy, talk about deadbolted parents. Alicia Crowe knows that many parents are pushed out of their childrens lives by the other parent, the legislatures, or the courts.
We must turn deadbolted parents into participating parents, and in a policy book I have just completed, awaiting a publisher, I outline 21 ways we can spend half of the $4 billion on parenting advocacy, information, and resources, and collect just as much financial child support as ever. Why? Because involved parents are paying parents. The Census Bureau reports that fathers with joint custody pay 90% of their child support, twice what parents pay with no access to their children.
Thank you for all you are doing to help children, and to encourage fatherhood and parenting in your states.
The fate of our nations children hangs in the balance.