Canada is Free and Freedom is Its Nationality

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Role of Government in Creating Great Family Related Policy

Please Note: This is a summary of the events and speeches in my own words for educational, information, and entertainment purposes only. It is not the speakers' exact words and should not be taken as such. It also may contain errors due to the nature of the medium. I am not responsible for any of them, use at your own risk.

Wade F. Horn, PhD, a clinical child psychologist, served from 2001 to 2007 as the Assistant Secretary for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) where he oversaw over 60 federal programs with a total budget of $47 billion aimed at improving the well-being of children and helping families achieve self-sufficiency, including welfare, child welfare, adoption, child support, Head Start, child care, and refugee resettlement. As Assistant Secretary, Dr. Horn served as the focal point for much of family policy in the U.S., including responsible fatherhood and healthy marriage initiatives.

From 1994-2001, Dr. Horn was President of the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) whose mission is to improve the well-being of children by increasing the number of children growing up with involved, committed and responsible fathers. Prior to working in government, Dr. Horn was the Director of Outpatient Psychological Services at the Children's Hospital National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at George Washington University.

Dr. Horn has written numerous articles relevant to children and family issues, including a weekly newspaper column entitled Fatherly Advice, and is the co-author of several books.

Dr. Horn received his Ph.D. in clinical child psychology from Southern Illinois University in 1981. He lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland, with his wife and has two adult daughters.

The Role of Government in Creating Great Family Related Policy

He will talk about family policy issues especially related to fatherhood.

He knows there are some differences between the US and Canada so some things may not be relevant but some interesting parallels can be drawn.

Told several stories about his children.

He talked about a moment of triumph his daughter had, when she glanced at the bleachers towards her parents and smiled. What would have happened if he wasn't there? Unfortunately, that is happening all the time. That Fathers aren't there for their children.

40% of children in the States don't have fathers. They think it may increase to 60%.

There have always been children without fathers but for the first time in history this loss of fathers is voluntary. There is a difference that when fathers die children recover, but voluntary fatherlessness is harder.

This is due to divorce.

It also used to be that 5% of births were out of wedlock. Now it is 35%.

Divorce doesn't mean that fathers can't be involved but it frequently does in practice. Many children don't see their fathers, don't have fathers who live with them if their parents aren't married.

20% of 6-12 graders haven't had a good conversation lasting at least 10 minutes with one parent in the last month.

Some say what's the big deal? Families today are different. This does not negatively affect children.

75% of single parent live in poverty.

20% of two parent families.

60% of rapists had no fathers.

Children of single parents are more likely to do badly in school, in life, and be abused.

Single parents can raise good kids but there is a non-trivial increase in risk.

Suppose you are flying and the ticket counter says there are two planes leaving at same time. One has 1% chance of crashing, the other has 10% chance of crashing. Which one do you go on?

Many single parent children will be just fine. But many won't and if we can increase the chances for those children that is good.

He believes in strong support services for children at risk because they are at risk. That doesn't contradict being a strong supporter of the need for intact families.

Society requires a critical mass of families. We are at risk of loosing that critical mass.

What can we do to help?

We need a culture that is better at celebrating the unique contributions of fathers to their children. In the 1990s we were in danger of losing the very idea of fathers. We couldn't even use the word. Articles would run titled "The Superfluous Father". The only thing that mattered was child support.

They had a unique contribution, but they were being marginalized and told to be like Moms.

Fathers are different than mothers. Mothers are more verbal, singing. Fathers are more physical, they play rough and tumble. Research has shown that rough and tumble play is very important to children. It teaches self control because it teaches limits and how to control aggression. Father says "Slow down, don't be too wild". 90% of men on death row never played with their fathers. Mothers are cautious. Fathers encourage independence. etc.

This is not that one is right and one is wrong. Children need both. They need one parent encouraging caution, the other encouraging risk. Then children will learn calculated risk.

The way fathers treat mothers teaches boys how to treat girls.

Fathers help children, especially boys to transition to adulthood. Without transitional help they will try to prove "adulthood" in less legitimate ways.

The Institute for Fatherhood has launched media campaigns to promote fatherhood.

Showed some commercials emphasizing that Dads need to spend time with children. "It takes a man to be a Dad"

These adds did make a different. Levels of support for fathers and fatherhood has gone up. President Obama has a "Fatherhood Initiative"

All things being equal, and not all htings are always equal, married fathers have an advantage on unmarried fathers.

Culture is more important than public policy but public policy sends signals to our culture.

What should public policy do? It should not stigmatize children living in single parent households or cut off support to them. It should not force people to marry or trap them in abusive relationships. But it should not be afraid of the word of marriage. People were afraid of the word "marriage". So he set out on a one man crusade to desensitize people to the word.

Child psychologists in the 70s were taught a lot of things that weren't true, like you shouldn't tell your kids to do something. He was trying to help his daughter discover that she should pick up the toys when she said if you want me to do it why don't you just tell me?

We need to tell people what they should be doing.

Government should promote healthy marriage.

They should not be neutral on the subject of marriage. It should incentivise marriage.

We know that marriages can be helped by counseling. That it is how they deal with conflict not how often they fight that matters.

Government gave supports to help unwed parents get married, save existing marriages, help communities support marriage.

Is this really a legitimate role of government? In so far as we are successful in supporting healthy marriage we will reduce many social ills. If we want to prevent the need for government social programs we should strike at the root of the problems, which can be the breakdown of families. We need to reduce the number of people who need these programs. One way we can do it is by supporting marriages.

Single parent children are more likely to drop out of school and do worse in general. Therefore public policy should encourage families and help them to stay together. (Barak Obama)

We have come a long way in the States from where fathers were considered irrelevant.

References The Princess Bride where one character meets the man who killed his father. When he is about to kill him the six fingered man offers him anything he wants. He asks for his father back.

The government has a role in helping to do that.

Q: There is a problem in general culture that there is an underlying war against men. Men are only seen as needing to provide financial support.

A: You are right. There is a problem that boys have become more vulnerable, they are doing worse. It is getting better from the 1990s. They did a survey of television commercials that showed 0% positive portrayal of men then but it is getting better now.

Q: Is a doctor at CHEO, can see that shaping public policy is helpful. When she has a family history she can't talk about family situation, ask where the father is. How can we, as individuals, promote fatherhood without stigmatizing or offending children.

A: That's how we think. THe children who don't have fathers know there is a lack. THey notice there is a lack. But when we refuse to talk about it in public they get the idea that there is something wrong with them for feeling this lack since no one else seems to. We should talk about it more openly. You can be very respectful to those kids. We don't need to bring back the word bastard or stigmatize single mothers. When he worked in hospital he had a string of parents who said we are getting divorce can you help our kids not get hurt. He said, can't happen.

Q: They are trying to do away with father and mother. Since we have this situation that it seems that the only good parent is a female one. Does this have an effect on families, alienation of parents or imbalance.

A: The Fatherhood Initiative is about that Fathers have something different, unique, and irreplaceable. It's not about better.

Q: How does unique and irreplaceable play into same sex marriage conversation

A: He doesn't want ot get dragged into that debate. The immediate problem for him is the fatherless households. Doesn't want to get distracted. Reporters always want to talk about that with him. He doesn't want to focus on that, not that it is a wrong focus but it isn't his.

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