Congress Reacting to APA Fatherhood Report

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNS) - A new report in a respected national psychological journal describing fathers as not "essential to child well-being" is catching the attention of lawmakers on Capitol Hill who disagree with the report's conclusions and recommendations.

The current issue of the American Psychologist, a publication of the American Psychological Association, includes a report that states in part "[W]e do not believe that the data support the conclusion that fathers are essential to child well-being and that heterosexual marriage is the social context in which responsible fathering is most likely to occur."

While analyzing the information contained in a variety of previous studies and publishing their conclusions on the data, the authors also make a series of political recommendations that include "an overall governmental family policy," including "a comprehensive program of governmental subsidies to all families with children."

The authors suggest that some of those new government programs include "governmentally financed day care," paid family leave and more subsidies for families with children.

Parents currently receive a number of advantages under the US tax code, including child tax exemptions, child tax credits passed by the 104th Congress, deductions for private day care services, head-of-household tax breaks for single parents and other benefits. Additional government services and subsidies include Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Medicaid eligibility, childhood vaccinations and other state and federal programs.

Fresh from a July 13 symposium on fatherhood, Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA), was quick to denounce the report, saying he was "appalled" by the study and its conclusions.

"Two decades of research support the fact that children who have been raised without their fathers are at risk of academic failure, behavioral problems, juvenile crime and teenage pregnancy," said Pitts in a statement to CNSNews.com

The Pennsylvania congressman cited data showing that "72 percent of adolescents charged with murder and 60 percent of convicted rapists grow up without their fathers."

Pitts also serves as a leader in the Congressional Task Force on Fatherhood Promotion, the bi-partisan group established in 1997 to explore the social changes that are required to ensure that every child is raised with a committed father. "Fathers do make a difference in the lives of children," said Pitts.

The report on fatherhood, written by Drs. Louise B. Silverstein and Carl F. Auerbach from Yeshiva University, is based on their studies of "approximately 200 men from 10 different subcultures within US society (who) have participated in this qualitative research," since 1993, according to the report.

According to the report, the research centered on "men who are actively involved with their children," and represent information collected from "Haitian Christian fathers; Promise Keeper fathers; gay fathers; Latino fathers; White, nongay divorced fathers; Modern Orthodox Jewish fathers; and Greek grandfathers."

The report does not state whether the research included data from any other social or ethnic group, data on adults who grew up without fathers in traditional or other family settings, information on fathers who are not actively involved in raising their children, children living in single-parent households, or women who raise children without a father.

The authors take issue with what they call a "neoconservative perspective" that presumes that "responsible fathering and positive child outcomes" are most likely to happen in a traditional marriage.

While some psychologists argue that a range of social ills like crime and poverty are aggravated by the absence of fathers from the lives of their children, Silverstein and Auerbach called that conclusion "a dramatic oversimplification of the complex relations" between a father and his children.

"Our research experience has led us to conceptualize fathering in a way that is very different from the neoconservative perspective," the report states, and the authors said that their recommendations are designed to "create an ideology that defines the father-child bond as independent of the father-mother relationship."

But an aide for another member of the Congressional Fatherhood Task Force suggested the report's authors do more research involving the potential criminal aspects surrounding the issue.

"These (researchers) should spend more time talking to those in prisons across the country and less time talking to each other," said Jeff Solsby, a spokesman for Rep. Jim Rogan (R-CA), in a statement to CNSNews.com.

As a prosecutor and judge in Los Angeles for 10 years prior to his election to Congress, Rogan "saw daily in the courtroom the remnants of absentee parents," said Solsby, who added that the report's call for more government spending represents some "tough medicine," for children who lack adequate fathering.

Silverstein and Auerbach argue that a change is needed in the "neoconservative paradigm" of fatherhood because the "essentialist position does not accurately reflect relevant empirical research," and the authors advocated an "ideological shift (that) would encourage the development of diverse models of responsible fatherhood."

The study claimed that creating such an ideological shift "in cultural gender ideology would be effective in maintaining a high level of paternal involvement for resident as well as nonresident fathers. Divorce and nonmarital childbirth would then be less likely to be characterized by father absence."

Although some in Congress are still examining the study and its clinical and political recommendations, it's uncertain whether this latest APA-published report will result in a congressional backlash similar to when the group published a study that claimed child sexual abuse did not cause pervasive harm among children.

The report on pedophilia resulted in a congressional resolution condemning its findings, which passed the House this week by a 355-0 margin with 13 House Members voting "Present" rather than supporting or opposing the report's conclusion that sex between adults and children can sometimes be good for the child.