April 22, 2005 – I want to thank you for making the arrest of the six men who failed to make their child support payments your lead story. Depending on where you sit on the issue you either feel glee at the crackdown on these deadbeats, or are alarmed because these are felony indictments. I am ambivalent as to whether these men are deadbeat or dead broke because I don't understand men who do not support their children. I do hope future indictments have more recognizable names however. (See "Feds Indict Five Men for Not Paying Child Support").
However, I fail to see how denying a man the ability to earn a living is a positive step in getting him to meet his obligations to his children. And the tools that the Paternity and Child Support Division has at its disposal can do just that. Taking away a man's ability to make a living only embitters him more, which is in part why the support payments were not made in the first place. Moreover, few employers are interested in hiring someone with a felony conviction.
Somewhere in all this there has to be a balance between enforcement to ensure the well being of a child, and society's desire to punish to the point of emasculation.
All the research that's been done by people smarter that me supports the need for father involvement with their children. Children whose fathers are highly involved with them attain higher levels of education and economic self-sufficiency than children whose fathers are not highly involved. For girls, studies link a sense of competence in daughters – especially in mathematics and their sense of femininity to a close, warm relationship between father and daughter. Unfortunately, there is virtually no one talking about how to strengthen families in the Virgin Islands.
I know men who move heaven and earth everyday to ensure there children are okay, but their efforts go un-recorded as we focus on who is dead- beat or dead broke. The key is to restore fathers to families and, to their children. Men who are connected to their children make their payments. Although for women who only wanted a sperm donor, no amount of government intervention will get that man to be a positive force in the life of the child.
If the point is to ensure the well being and success of children, let's be sure that incarceration is the exception and not the rule. More men in jail will only ensure that we have more fatherless children.
Editor's Note: Richard L. Brown has been working on Fatherhood issues in the Virgin Island for the past six years. He is a businessman and former public high school teacher.
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