The Dec. 16 news article "Delinquent Dads" highlighted the seriousness of states seeking to secure support for children from absent parents -- usually fathers. Several of the "deadbeat dads" quoted took the opportunity to complain about the current state of their visitation rights.

The American Public Welfare Association and its Child Support Enforcement Task Force, which I chair, strongly support the concept of parental support; such support is the first line of defense against dependency. And we strongly support visitation rights for noncustodial parents, except in those cases where visitation could be harmful to the children.

We believe, however, that economic support and visitation rights are separate issues. Absent fathers should not be allowed to use the issue of visitation rights to avoid their responsibilities for support of their children.

The 1984 Child Support Enforcement amendments required each governor to appoint a state commission on child support, one of whose tasks was to examine problems associated with visitation rights. The state commissions generally agreed that visitation and child support should be legally separate issues.

The failure of noncustodial parents to support children led to provisions in the Family Support Act of 1988 that substantially strengthened child-support enforcement efforts. Some see the payment of child support from absent fathers as a key solution to the poverty and welfare dependency of poor children in single-parent households. We believe it is important to establish the responsibility for fathers to support their children and stress the need to enforce proper visitation. It is important for children to be raised with the active involvement of both parents.

We challenge the notion, however, that it is ever "okay" to fail to pay child support. Custodial parents and their children cannot be held hostage with demands for increased visitation. These issues should be addressed separately.

ELLIOT GINSBERG Commissioner Connecticut Department of Human Resources Washington