Federal agents arrested dozens of ''deadbeat dads'' last week in a national crackdown on the thousands of divorced and separated parents who shirk their obligation to pay child support. That's a welcome step against an age-old problem. But what about the ''dead broke'' dads? Researchers estimate that perhaps one-third of the parents who fail to pay child support are themselves poor or unemployed, and that's one reason enforcing support orders always has been such a vexing challenge. ...
There's an equity issue too. Because the vast majority of adults on welfare are single mothers, the welfare-to-work revolution has amounted to a crackdown on poor, single women. As a matter of fairness, the same logic should be applied to the fathers: Society will insist that they take more responsibility for their behavior and their children, but it will offer them the tools to make that possible.
That's the philosophy behind an experiment called Parents' Fair Share, conducted in several counties around the nation during the 1990s. Poor, noncustodial parents who had fallen behind on their child-support orders received skills training, job counseling and new incentives to pay their obligations. ...
Congress has considered expanding this tactic nationwide, but a ''Fathers Count'' bill that passed the House last year failed to pass the Senate. If Congress and the Bush administration are serious about child support and welfare reform, they should see that bill signed into law this year.
-- Star Tribune, Minneapolis
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