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Fighting Fatherlessness In America

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Sixty percent of kids in Richmond, Va., are without a dad in the home, reports First Things First of Greater Richmond.

First Things First works to help men become actively involved in their children's lives in that city because, as the group explains, often "it's the fathers that leave the family. ... (W)e have a major father absenteeism issue in Richmond."

Across the nation, more than one-fourth of all children live in single-parent households. Most of these children live with their mothers.

President Obama well understands why fathers are so essential for children. He grew up in a single-mother household. Last month, as he addressed the all-male graduating class of Morehouse College, he emphasized the importance of fathers, saying:

"I have tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father was not for my mother and me. I want to break that cycle."

When children do not have stable relationships with their dads, marked by frequent involvement, they are more susceptible to depression and are more likely to abuse drugs, or demonstrate delinquent behavior.

Children who live in single-parent households are also 82 percent more likely to experience child poverty.

With the unmarried birth rate high among young women with the lowest levels of education, single-mother households now comprise more than half of all families living in poverty. Without the relative financial stability marriage can provide, single parents and their children are at greater risk of government dependence. Of the $1 trillion spent on welfare funding to low-income families with children, almost three-quarters went to single-parent - and often fatherless - households.

When fathers play an active role in the lives of their children, they make a tangible difference. Children whose fathers spent time with them doing day-to-day activities such as homework, eating dinner, or playing sports earned better grades on average than peers who had less access to their fathers.

It is vital for a father to play an active role in the lives of his children - particularly by being married to the mother of his kids.

Truin Huntle, the executive director of First Things First of Greater Richmond, says:

"We see more people beginning to give some credence to it because they are looking for the root cause of other issues like childhood poverty, poor performance in school. Father absenteeism, broken homes, broken marriages and teen pregnancy are continually being found as the root cause of those problems."

The statistics in Richmond - and across the nation - highlight the need for policy that supports and promotes marriage and family.

By encouraging marriage in low-income communities, teaching adolescents and young adults the economic and social benefits of marriage, and reducing policy disincentives for marriage, more children can avoid the pain of absent fathers and the risks of poverty.

-Leslie Grimard is a researcher in the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in Kansas City Star

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