Benjamin F. Cacioppo, psychiatric social worker and teacher at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine, and Pennelope S. Parker, family enhancement supervisor at Omaha's Child Saving Institute, were two of the key sources of assistance to Rick Jandrt in his successful bid to gain custody of his daughter.
The important thing about Jandrt's case, says Cacioppo, is that "what he had to go through to gain custody of his child has established guidelines for other men.
"In the eyes of the U.S. Census Bureau, fathers really don't seem to exist. You can go to the Census statistics and compare mothers with biological children and how many nonrelated or stepchildren they have. You can do all kinds of neat statistics with mothers, but you can't do that with fathers."
Cacioppo, 38, and Parker, 32, described Jandrt's case during a workshop on unwed fathers at a Washington meeting of the National Association of Social Workers, during which Jandrt also spoke in a videotape appearance.
Although fathers are being awarded custody of their children more frequently than before, mothers still win custody, social workers were told, in a "large majority" of cases.
"Lawyers now are beginning to pay attention to fathers' custody requests," says Cacioppo. He notes a survey of judges showing they consider at least five areas for making custodial decisions:
1. Motivation. Are the fathers serious about childrearing?
2. Priorities. Would the fathers be able to give enough of their time to their children to be good parents?
3. Gender placement. Specifically, should fathers be given custody of daughters?
4. Stability and suitability. Is it a stable home and can the father provide a stable, suitable environment?
5. Support system. Are there suitable, adequate support systems available to the father?
The problems facing single fathers, claims Cacioppo, "are the same as those for single mothers: financial, child care, child guidance and nurturance, discipline, homemaking and baby-sitting."
It is up to the single or unwed fathers, Cacioppo and Parker point out, to be able to show that they have the financial means to support their children, the behavioral skills to raise and care for them, the dedication and ability to give them quality and quantity time, and the competence and emotional stability to handle child guidance and nurturance.
Cacioppo says fathers are showing that they: "will take workload reductions to spend extra time with their children ; will spend leisure time with their children; will learn the behavior skills necessary for parenting and child care as a single parent ."
Traditionally, "The human service agencies aren't geared for father support."
"Society," says Parker, "assumes women know how to care for babies. Fathers have to prove they can properly care for them."
It is imperative, she stresses, for the traditionally female-oriented social service agencies to reassess and, where appropriate, adjust their programs to provide positive, meaningful help to unwed or single fathers.