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This Father’s Day, Don’t Forget The Rights of Single Dads

Kids do better with Dad in the picture.

By Joel N. Myers

Opinion for The Dallas Morning News

1:30 AM on Jun 18, 2022

 

Decades of research show what we know from our life experiences: Children need both parents actively involved in their upbringing to have the best chance of being successful adults. Despite this, our family courts and social service agencies often hinder or completely deny children’s access to their fathers, in large part due to longstanding cultural biases against single dads.

 

According to the last census, the share of children living with both parents has slipped to 70%, down from 85% in 1968. Among the rest, 21% of children live with their mothers only, 5% live with their fathers only, and 4% live without either of their parents. This is a seismic trend, and our response as a society has been thoughtless and ineffective when it comes to the need for single fathers to be fully involved in their children’s lives.

 

In 2019, my organization, the Dads’ Resource Center, reviewed the outcomes of 700 contested custody cases from 14 Pennsylvania counties. The results of these cases were as expected. Mothers received full or primary custody in 496 cases, fathers in 100 cases, and parents were awarded joint custody in only 104 cases.

 

We followed this study with a survey of every office of Children and Youth Services in Pennsylvania, which showed a ratio of 82% female and 18% male staff. This level of representation creates challenges for understanding and working with fathers.

 

We also surveyed every county in Pennsylvania to investigate the role of guardians ad litem and found a disturbing lack of standards in the hiring, training, oversight and accountability for those serving in a position that has significant influence over the decisions that judges make. This is unfortunate given the not uncommon anecdotal stories of bias reported by fathers when a guardian ad litem is involved.

 

These are just some of the challenges that dads face during custody battles. At the University of Texas’ LBJ School of Public Affairs, the independent and nonpartisan Child & Family Research Partnership noted in a May 2018 policy brief, “Although Texas has taken important steps to support fathers, opportunities remain for the state to do more for fathers and to contribute to improving the well-being of children.” This is a common refrain heard throughout the nation.

 

Because they believe or are counseled by their lawyers that the deck is stacked against them, many fathers give up the pursuit of the custody arrangement they really want. Some want to continue fighting for custody but run out of money. Others, foreseeing a protracted and contentious custody battle, choose to surrender as a way of sparing their children from potential blowback. The victims in all this are the children who are made to suffer through relentless turmoil and uncertainty, with a majority being denied needed access to their fathers.

 

The Dads’ Resource Center analysis of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 illustrates the lifelong impact a father’s absence has on children. Every metric we explored showed that on average those participants who grew up with their father’s engagement were healthier and more productive than those who did not benefit from having their father in their home.

Children raised without their fathers in their home were 43% less likely to graduate from college and earned 26% less annually ($43,938 vs. $59,490). Even more significantly, they were 94% more likely to have used government programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children and worker’s compensation, and were 71% more likely to have been convicted of a crime.

 

In an effort to quantify the financial impact of father absence, the National Fatherhood Initiative issued its 100 Billion Dollar Man report in 2008. It looked at government programs that provide financial aid, social services, nutrition, health and housing assistance and estimated an annual cost to taxpayers of $100 billion to support father-absent homes.

 

The Dads’ Resource Center updated this estimate in 2020 and found it to be $269 billion per year. Digging even deeper, using the difference in earnings we found in our NLSY 1997 analysis and data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau, we estimated that those children who grew up without their fathers in the home will experience a mind-boggling $491 billion in lost wages annually. Taken together, this $760 billion cost to society represents 3% of our GDP.

 

It is clear from the research that lack of father involvement significantly contributes to, or is a root cause of, many major societal issues that our country faces. Common sense dictates that increasing father involvement is the most direct and cost-effective means of addressing these issues.

 

Yet so often, our courts, county systems and human service organizations continue to needlessly deny a substantial number of children regular access to their fathers. It is cruel and mean spirited, and many millions of children are being hurt by it.

 

While we welcome the funding being put into father engagement programs, there is much more that needs to happen. Ultimately, it is easier to throw money into programs than it is to take on the inherent biases against single fathers in our courts and other governmental entities. The avoidance of adequately addressing systemic obstacles to custody for many single dads enables unspeakable pain and anguish for these fathers and their children.

 

Let’s finally commit this Father’s Day to take action to eliminate longstanding barriers to single-father involvement in the lives of their children. That would be a Father’s Day gift to cherish.

 

Joel N. Myers is the founder and board chair of the Dads’ Resource Center. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

 

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