Running from Responsibility
by Devin LaCerte, Alena James, and Jennifer Story
The most rewarding job a person can have is that of a parent. The growth of a child is dependent on many factors. The outcome relies on the parent’s love and concern for the child’s well being in correlation with the parent’s financial contribution to the child’s needs. It takes positive contributions from both parents, in all areas, to ensure the creation of a well-balanced productive member of society. However, when one parent is uninvolved and apathetic to their children's needs it causes social, economic and emotional damage to the family and effects society as a whole.
With the ever-increasing divorce rates in the United States, many children live in a house in which only one parent provides the necessities of life. The absence of a parent causes irreparable emotional scars. Monica L.P. Robbers, in her article "Reconnecting, Rebuilding, and Re-educating: evaluating a responsible fatherhood program for incarcerated 'deadbeat' dads", relates that children who have uninvolved fathers are at greater risk for substance abuse, delinquency, and crime (Robbers). In addition to the emotional burden, statistics show that the absence of the other parent can exact a financial toll as well. In her article "Paying for the children of divorce. (Child-support payments)", Patricia Chisholm states that “between fifty and seventy percent of divorced fathers do not make their full child-support payments” (Chisholm). This has a direct correlation to the rate of poverty in the United States. As reported by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means, forty-six percent of single-parent families live below the poverty line. They go on to state that eighty-five percent of the welfare caseload consisted of single mothers with children (qtd in Anderson). Even when working a full-time job, most single parents cannot make ends meet. When a non-custodial parent does not pay their child support, the custodial parent is left with little choice but to get state help. This irresponsible practice of avoiding child support payments leaves the taxpayers to make up the difference.
It is understandable that not all families consist of two parents living together and raising children. This is particularly true in cases of domestic violence. However, no matter what the circumstances are, the issue of parental responsibility is never-ending. Just because two parents do not live together, in no way diminishes the parents’ financial and nurturing responsibilities towards the child. When a parent is not taking care of their responsibility seriously or is unable to provide financial and emotional support, we have a duty to step in for the sake of the children involved.
Although this appears to be an elementary concept, statistics show that there are a number of parents who do not live up to this role. According to The South Carolina Department of Social Services, just the top twenty deadbeat parents have accumulated over $643,000.00 in arrears (http://www.state.sc.us/dss/csed/delinq.htm). If one were to use this number as an average for the amount of money owed, only the top twenty deadbeat parents in each state combined would total $32,166,650.00 in arrears. This is just the tip of a very large and dangerous iceberg. The long term and harmful effects of this trend result in the degradation of the welfare system. As the system works right now, if a custodial parent is on welfare, the state assists in recovering child support for them. An entire department has been formed and dedicated to this endeavor. Usually, the state issues a check to the parent for the amount of the child support owed and assumes the debt and the collection effort for it. In other words, we, the taxpayers, are paying for it. Not only do we pay the child support, but also provide the funds needed in tracking down parents unwilling to pay their child support. We are also providing food and health care in the form of food stamps and Medicaid. The welfare system is simply not designed for this kind of abuse. Taxpayers cannot, nor should they have to, continue paying for the apathy of some parents. Except for the confiscation of tax returns by the federal government, child support recovery has been left to states to enforce. This causes great variations between policies and procedures and creates large gaps in enforcement. The standard remedies for delinquent parents involve garnishment, liens, the suspension of professional and driver's licenses or incarceration. While some states are very strict and implement these punishments against offenders regularly, there are a number of states more lax in regards to enforcement. The gap increases when either parent moves to a new state. Trying to track and organize enforcement with another state that has different priorities and procedures can make enforcement almost impossible. Even those who make the laws recognize a problem exists. Rep. Cynthia Soto, chair of the Illinois Child Support Enforcement Committee states honestly that "there is a huge need for reform"(qtd in Libby). As a result of these inconsistencies, the most viable solution to the problem is the formation of a federally regulated and standardized enforcement program targeted toward educating and rehabilitating child support debtors, while placing the debtors in public works jobs that build vocational skills. The program will be entitled the National Responsible Parents Assistance Program. The program will consist of three main phases: enforcement, vocational and training development, and parental relationship rehabilitation. If these parents are going to let the taxpayers carry the financial burden for their children, then these parents need to work for the taxpayers. The first phase of the program calls for the establishment of federal guidelines to govern the regulation of child support payments. Guidelines include the requirement of timely payments. Parents unable to make payments under the specified time constraints maintain the option of entering into the NRPAP. Parents unwilling to recognize their need for such a program and become delinquent in payments (not to exceed $2,500) are subject to immediate property confiscations and garnishment of wages. Habitual offenders are immediately to be incarcerated in a federal penitentiary and placed in the NRPAP on date of release. There needs to be a clear and concise message sent to parents that ignoring the welfare of their children is not an option. It is a crime. The second phase of the NRPAP consists of the development of vocational and educational skills. Program members will undergo vocational and educational training, while working in public works programs. This provides members with hands on training, which increases potential wage earnings by the parent, while assisting in public facility development in the United States. Such programs will entail the construction of park trails, highway development, recreational park facility refurbishment and other facility maintenance and national beautification projects. They will go wherever the government needs workers. Training for such projects provides workers with skills essential to the acquiring of vocational jobs outside of the NRPAP. This, in turn, creates an easier transition into the outside work force for the NRPAP member after graduation from the program. Participants of the program will be paid minimum wage for full time labor. Of this amount, all but $100 a month will be credited to current and delinquent payments. Members are guaranteed to receive $25 per week for personal spending money. They will be provided room and board in government housing such as unused military bases and other surplus governmental buildings. The participant themselves will be responsible for the refurbishment and maintenance of these facilities. Members remain in the program until delinquent payments are met and they have offset the cost of their use of the program. This allows parents to pay back the system that sustains their children in their absence. The final phase of the solution calls for the rehabilitation of parental skills. Robbers relates that, of the participants in a responsible father program, most "had a negative outlook on the relationship with their children"(Robbers). A good relationship between the parent and child is paramount to the willingness of the parent to pay child support. Thus, if we want long-term success, we must change the negative viewpoint of non-custodial parents. While in the NRPAP, parents would be required to attend counseling sessions on responsible parenting. Some states have implemented such programs, mostly in large urban cities, with moderate success rates. While good ideas, they are not mandatory. In this program, these classes will be. While enrolled in the program, members will engage in support groups facilitated by a counselor. Members will be instructed to complete assignments designed to improve communications between child and parent. Other counseling will focus on improving relationships with the custodial parent. It is imperative that parents are able to co-parent effectively to develop healthy and stable relationships between all individuals involved. Not only will it be good for the parents, but also set the proper example for the child and break the cycle of neglect. Some would argue that this program is unfair to the parents made to enroll in it. They would say that it violates the rights of the parents. If we are to talk about rights, let us discuss the rights of the innocent. Let us discuss the rights of the custodial parent. Do they not have a right to not work endless hours while they are children are raised by daycare providers? There are so many custodial parents working themselves into an early grave just so they can financially tread water. The swollen welfare numbers only reflect the families who are poor enough to get the state to help them. What about the parents who make just enough not to qualify for the state's assistance with child support enforcement? These custodial parents must retain an attorney. They end up turning to their own family to stay above water. Why must everyone else pay for the absentee parent's irresponsibility? Who is concerned about the rights of the children? They are truly innocent. Who are defending their right to not be ignored and their right to not live in poverty? Why should the taxpayers be saddled with this burden and receive no benefit? This is not just a random debt. This is a child. Should the rights of delinquent parents outweigh the rights of innocent victims? The answer is simply no. We spend millions every year on current recovery programs. Most of these funds are never recovered. Child support enforcement agents are over-worked and underpaid. With some parents hiding assets and being paid in cash, finding income to garnish can be a difficult and tedious process. If the parent quits or takes another job, the process has to be repeated. This is all at the government's expense. This all gets added to the offending parent’s bill but it only gets paid back if the parent pays. These parents have already proven that making timely payments is not a priority.
Throwing a parent in jail will not solve the problem. If it does anything, it exacerbates it. Incarceration stops garnishment options, while the government incurs the cost of housing the delinquent parent in jails and penitentiaries. With this program, we will have funds being paid back into the system and getting much-needed public projects done. Most taxpayers would not mind paying for the welfare of a child if their parent was helping build a new park down the street or putting in sidewalks for their kids to play on. People do not want to pay for someone else's child while also paying for the child’s parents to sit in a jail cell and do nothing. If we put these parents in vacant government buildings, we do not have to spend as much money tracking them down and trying to start garnishments. We will know where they are. They will be working for us. By using and refurbishing old abandoned buildings, we keep costs low. Many old military bases and other federal complexes sit empty. The plan puts these facilities to use. Delinquent parents are to refurbish and maintain these facilities under the watch of control officers. If we are going to spend thousands of dollars on incarceration and investigating dead beat parents, would it not be more worthy of our money to train delinquent parents to build and restore a park trail for the public’s recreational use? Would it also not be more beneficial to restore abandoned facilities and make use of them?
Society is not perfect. There are a number of issues that need to be addressed and fixed. The welfare of dead beat parents contributes significantly to a plethora of issues. Children suffer emotional trauma, as well as spouses of delinquent parents. Tax payers are not inclined to pay for the welfare of another’s child, as well as the incarceration of the child’s parent. While children are the future of this country, making sure they are taken care of remains essential to our society's growth. Attitudes need to change. We must put teeth into the current child support enforcement laws and implement a repayment program that stresses parental involvement and the development of vocational skills. No longer can we afford to allow parents to renege on their responsibilities. The cost is too high.