Welfare reform fails to focus on fathers

President Clinton’s recent proposal aimed at teen-age welfare mothers once again ignores half of this growing social dilemma: the fathers. Effective welfare reform needs to clearly state what responsibilities we as a society demand of these men who play but don’t pay.
Clinton’s plan would end welfare benefits to teen-age mothers who drop out of school, live on their own and find themselves living long-term on government assistance. “Today we are moving to make responsibility a way of life, not an option,” said Clinton during his weekly radio address. But until public attention and policy includes a shared focus on the fathers of these children, the population of poor mothers and children will continue to grow. The same requirements should be expected of the teen-age fathers in order to turn back this growing tide of poverty.
The president’s proposal also calls for teen-age mothers to continue living with their parents. But while some teen-age mothers do come from the best of homes, many come from troubled homes that have already failed to provide a positive atmosphere for these adolescents. This point needs examination on a case-by-case basis. Forcing young parents to live in a home that has thus far let them down may not be the right choice for mother and child.
Clinton is on the right track when it comes to expecting teenagers to take responsibility for their sexual behavior choices. If teen-agers decide to become parents, they must finish high school and work to better their lot in life. But what we need to remember is that teen-age mothers don’t act alone. None of these births are replays of the Immaculate Conception, nor should they be treated that way. Consequences, like responsibilities, are shared concepts in this game.
A lack of focus on delinquent dads created the environment that spawned Minnesota Vikings defensive end Fernando Smith. Smith was arrested Monday night at his Hopkins home for failing to make child support payments to the mother of his 5-year-old daughter. He owes $42,182 in back support — just more than one-tenth of his $400,000 signing bonus — to the little girl who lives on public assistance with her mother in Flint, Mich. Smith became a father as a teen-ager, but has yet to learn what it means to be a dad.
America has created this multimillion-dollar monster of non-paying fathers by condoning their behavior with silence. It’s time for fathers who do take responsibility for their children to speak up. As long as we blame and condemn mothers for all that is wrong with children today, we continue to simply spin our wheels. In order for mothers to obtain assistance, fathers should be named and required to participate financially from the first moment welfare becomes involved. Society’s willingness to provide tax dollars to needy children should not be so blatantly disrespected.
Honest, individual appraisals may take a little more effort, but the results have the potential to exceed society’s wildest expectations. The bonus in a plan that requires ownership of responsibility by both the father and mother is a healthy child who knows he or she has a destiny full of choice.