The $100 billion man. No, he’s not a new superhero with bionic limbs who can run through walls and is more powerful than a locomotive. The $100 billion man is the personification of the annual cost of absentee fathers to American society. That was the conclusion of a 2008 report written by Christopher Einolf and the late Steven Nock for the National Fatherhood Initiative.
When the cost of government programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, Temporary Aid to Needy Families, child support enforcement, food and nutrition programs (Food Stamps and school lunch programs), housing programs, Medicaid, and state-run children’s health insurance plans are calculated, the total comes to nearly $100 billion. And the authors maintain that that is a conservative estimate! The authors also don’t mention anything about the possible cost of crime in that $100 billion price tag. But since this is a crime prevention blog, the real question of the day is: Does the absence of fathers lead to higher crime rates? And if it does, what should we do about it?
The answer? We don’t have just one. For every report or study stating that the children of absentee fathers are some undetermined percentage more likely to be involved in criminal activity, there’s one that says that that’s only one of a constellation of variables that contribute to someone choosing a path of crime.
Researchers from the Florida Family Council found that 72 percent of the juvenile offenders interviewed said they came from homes where their mother and father are not married. But what does that mean when currently 40 percent of births in the United States are to households without a married father of the baby? For every doom-and-gloomer on the national plight brought on by absentee fathers, there is an equal and opposite position that the situation of single mothers raising children is not the tragedy that is often depicted in the media. Feminist and investigative reporter Trish Wilson has written numerous online articles stating that the woes attributed to absent fathers are more myth than fact, lending credence to the old maxim that falsehood can be out the door before truth gets its shoes on. The one arena researchers have focused on is the children of incarcerated parents. There it appears that the absence of a parent due to parental incarceration (mostly fathers) has negative effects on children and increases the risk for children engaging in delinquent behavior, trying alcohol or drugs, and joining a gang (Howell and Egley, 2005). Other research shows two things: (1) it is the quality of the father-child relationship that has a positive effect on child outcomes rather than the quantity of time spent or the proximity of the father to the child, and (2) a quality surrogate role model or mentor can be a positive factor in predicting favorable child outcomes.
An independent evaluation (Grossman and Tierney, 1998) of the Big Brother, Big Sister Mentoring Program found that mentees who met with their mentors regularly for about one year were 46 percent less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs and 27 percent less likely to start drinking, among other findings. A child’s ability to adapt relies heavily on good family relationships, or surrogate relationships with adults who are significantly invested in the life and well-being of the child. Positive adult role models, either within or outside of the family, teach or guide young people as they develop their skills and talents. Through their actions, these caring adults show young people how to respond to challenges in positive ways. Young people trust that these role models and mentors will help them manage difficult situations.
So what can we do? We could mentor. One place to start is mentoring.org.
And I don’t think it’ll cost us $100 billion.
Any other ideas? Please write back with your comments.