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Why We Care

Responsible Fatherhood Matters

Father absence, one of our time's more disturbing trends, affects mothers and fathers alike, but more significantly places unwarranted hurdles before children. Twenty-four million children (34 percent) in the US live without their biological father according to the US Census Bureau. In 2006 45 percent of all babies born in South Carolina were out of wedlock and the divorce rate hovered around 39 percent putting more and more children in single parent homes. Despite living in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, children continue to lose ground in nearly all indicators of child well-being. In South Carolina 22 percent of children live in poverty (2006); 34.4 percent of eighth graders failed to graduate high school (2004 - 2006) and 82 percent come from single parent homes living in situations other than with biological parents. Without a father present, children are more likely to live in poverty, drop out of school, and are at greater risk for delinquency. Sadly, South Carolina ranks eighth in the nation in incarceration rates resulting in an average inmate population of 22,000 which is equivalent to the average population of a small rural South Carolina county. According to 2007 Department of Corrections data, 62 percent of inmates are fathers.

Some fathers choose to be uninvolved in their children's lives; others hunger for involvement but are hampered by various barriers. Many fathers lack confidence in their parenting abilities never having had an involved father to show them the way. More mothers lack confidence in the parenting abilities of fathers preventing them from being actively involved in the lives of the children even when child support is being paid. In a 2000 survey conducted by the University of South Carolina's Institute for Families in Society, 52 percent of mothers responding surmised that their child's biological father did not see his child more often because he did not learn good parenting skills from his father. Of the mothers surveyed 26.3 percent said that fathers felt inadequate about their ability to contribute to their children's well-being. Having a strained relationship with the child's mother further distances a father from his child. A survey of 1120 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients overwhelmingly cited couple relationship problems as the primary reason for strained parental relationships and that far exceeded financial issues, incarceration, violence, drugs and alcohol abuse. When a cooperative relationship does not exist between the custodial mother and the father, he must rely on her good graces to see his children. Children suffer the consequences and experience father absence when cooperative relationships are non-existent. Low-income fathers can not afford the legal process fees required to establish visitation. Faced with no other avenue to establish visitation, too many frustrated fathers just stop paying child support widening the gap for the children.

Low income dads have common challenges, and many of them are unable to pay child support because they lack an education, job or transportation. For some the challenges are growing. With unemployment rates at 9.6 percent, many low-income fathers remain unemployed and unable to pay child support.  Failure to pay child support often results in incarceration for non-custodial parents; however, statistics indicate that 43 percent of fathers jailed solely for non-payment of child support will return to jail once released creating a costly cycle. The inmate population continues to exceed capacities in county detention centers. About 10,000 inmates are released annually and close to 40 percent of them will be re-incarcerated within 36 months.

Father-absence is prevalent in all walks of life and every income level, and the fallout for low-income children is devastating. Marginal progress in reducing poverty and preserving families warrants a new approach and clearly states the case for responsible fatherhood.

"Reducing Poverty Through Father Engagement": A synthesis of the research