The Fatherhood Crisis: Time for a New Look?

Policy Reports | Social

No. 267
Wednesday, June 30, 2004
by Stephen Baskerville


Today's debate on the family seems to be conducted at cross-purposes. Ironically, conservatives are proposing government programs to address the problems of family breakdown and fatherless children, while liberals insist the family should be free from government intervention. Both avoid the question of the extent to which government policies created the problems in the first place.69

While fatherless families lead to social problems, it is not clear that a "fatherhood crisis" exists, other than that created by the government. Elected leaders are proposing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on federal, state and local programs to promote fatherhood and marriage. But, if fathers are not abandoning their children in record numbers, there would seem to be little justification to discourage them from doing so. Although well-intentioned, it is not clear how government programs can enhance a parent's relationship with his own children. Those same bureaucracies may have been instrumental in rupturing that relationship in the first place. There are growing indications that such initiatives could instead lead to further government intrusions. At the very least, these issues deserve an open public discussion. If unilateral divorce encourages the breakup of families, and the child protection-legal system is separating divorced fathers from their children, a simpler and more effective approach might be to curtail the power of government.

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