Friday, June 26, 2009

Senator Evan Bayh and Responsible Fatherhood

Senator Evan Bayh spent all last Friday at the White House with President Obama to draw attention to the importance of responsible fatherhood. He was the only member of the Senate invited to the home of the President for a series of special events focused on the vital role that engaged fathers play in molding their children into responsible, caring adults.

The Responsible Fatherhood Act, introduced by Bayh and cosponsored by then-Senator Barack Obama in the last Congress, is an extension of Bayh's work to reduce fatherlessness as Governor of Indiana. Bayh reintroduced the bill last week for Father's Day. Also to commemorate Father's Day, Senator Bayh wrote an op-ed piece, titled My Father's Day Wish, in the Richmond Palladium-Item. Please read that before continuing.

There Bayh noted that “There is an irrefutable body of evidence demonstrating that father absence is a major contributor to such troubling societal trends as increased teen pregnancy, teen violence, educational under-performance, and drug and alcohol abuse. Children who grow up without a dad are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime. They are more likely to drop out of school, more likely to commit suicide and more likely to become teenage parents.”

One provisions of this bill is to "Fund financial literacy programs and budgeting education, employment services, and mediation and conflict resolution for low-income parents." This is really gender neutral but if it is implemented appropriately it could help fathers gain more involvement with their children. The rest of the bill does contain some help for fathers although not in the way most would like: to be able to spend more time and provide more care to their children.

Many of the provisions of this bill focus on child support payments. I am a strong advocate of parental responsibility which, in some situations, may require a parent to accept the role of financial provider. However, a system that only creates sugar-daddies for single moms is doing nothing to ensure that children receive the support they are entitled to.

Although the child support payment scheme establishes support payments that far exceed actual cost [mine were set at 70% of what we spent as a family of three on everything, not just “support”] I am most disturbed by the way in which the State mandates support be provided. The State wants support provided only as money. Clearly the State must be a motivated by something other than the best interest of the children.

There should be provisions to encourage parents to provide support. A father who buys food and diapers and takes them to the mother provides support directly to the child and demonstrates the role of a father. A father can take the child to the doctor and make the payment. A father can take his child to sign-up for soccer and pay the registration fee.

These acts not only get fathers more involved with raising their children but also relieve the mother of having to run all those errands. Receipts could be acquired and sent to the Child Support Bureau along with any cash balance due. Some argue that this would create an unsurmountable logistic burden upon the State. However, personal involvement has been shown to greatly increase child support payment compliance. Actually seeing the payments being used to support the child would further increase compliance. This would relieve much of the support enforcement staff [lawyers] who could be replaced by payment processors [clerks] at a substantial cost savings to taxpayers.

More should be done to ensure that children receive this support and that fathers have the opportunity and responsibility to provide that. The Responsible Fatherhood bill appears to provide some of that. Still, this bill will help bureaucrats and others far more than it helps dads, and in some ways it will hurt fathers.

Currently I am working on legislation with a handful of Indiana legislators, both Republican and Democrat, that will ensure that parents are responsible to their children while at the same time giving them more opportunities to be parents. I have also requested a meeting with Senator Evan Bayh.

Unfortunately, most of the purported pro-father legislation that we see is not child-friendly by expanding the government role in children's lives when the primary focus should be on expanding parental roles, especially father's, in their children's lives.

As Governor, Bayh's administration held one of the first national conferences on responsible fatherhood, removed marriage penalties in government programming and used media and grants to promote responsible fatherhood. While governor, Senator Bayh also more than doubled the amount of money collected for child support payments.

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1 comment:

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