We’ve heard a lot about government incursions into private family decisions lately. Whether it’s Justice Antonin Scalia smacking down a law prohibiting the sale of violent video games to minors, or the chorus of outraged Maryland parents condemning a now-rescinded policy banning counselors from smearing sunscreens on their charges.
It’s in this atmosphere that a new federal family-betterment campaign has been rolled out. Though the intentions are broad — the government wants to make sure that more dads are getting involved at home — the methods are passive.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has just launched the effort to try to encourage more involved parenting from fathers, especially estranged dads.
Why is the government getting involved?
“There is a public cost associated with father absence. Just about every social issue we care about and that the government addresses – poverty, joblessness, teen pregnancy, child abuse, incarceration, school failure, etc. – is affected by the presence or absence of good fathers in children’s lives,” Jesse Moore, a HHS spokesman wrote me in an e-mail.
“So even though it is a ‘personal’ issue, there are deep ‘public’ costs associated with it."
Just last month, a Pew Research Center report informed us that 27 percent of American fathers are not living with their families. (I mentioned in my earlier post today on fathers’ work-life conflict as the report also showed that those dads who live with their families are more hands-on than previous generations.)
The government’s effort targets two specific populations: Hispanic fathers and military dads. The HHS cites census research from the National Fatherhood Initiative and the U.S. Census Bureau, respectively, that says “an estimated 1.8 million children are affected by the stresses of military life; while 34 percent Hispanic children live without their fathers.”
Together with the AD Council, the HHS produced public service announcements, including the one below.
It’s a very sweet message. But is it necessary? Does the government have a role to play in encouraging fathers? In encouraging good parenting?