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John Grosz, President
Ryan Brech, Vice President
Steve Mathis, Treasurer
Brian Martin, Secretary
Open, West River Rep.
James Zajicek, East River Rep.
Roger M. Baron
Grant Applied For and Denied
The following is our grant application Introduction for the South Dakota Visitation Enforcement Grant Program. The Visitation Enforcement Task Force is soliciting grant applications for funding to establish and administer programs to support and facilitate Noncustodial parent access to and visitation of their children. Program activities may include mediation (voluntary and mandatory), counseling education, development of parenting plans, visitation enforcement (including monitoring, supervision, and neutral drop-off and pickup), and development of guidelines for visitation and alternative custody arrangements. Grant applications will be considered at the April 18, 2000 meeting of the task force in Pierre.
Introduction. It is clear that both mothers and fathers play a vital role to the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual well being of children, however, an alarming trend continues in our country today. In his 1999 introduction to “The Responsible Fatherhood” bill (S. 1364), U.S. Senator Peter Dominci (D-NM) stated that nearly 25 million children in the United States live apart from their biological father and that 40% of children who live in households without a father have not seen their father in at least one year. His introduction further concludes that children who live without contact with their biological father are 5 times more likely to live in poverty, more likely to bring weapons and drugs into the classroom, twice as likely to commit crime and the list continues. He also reported that 70 percent of U.S. citizens believe that the most significant family or social problem facing the U.S. is the physical absence of the father from the home, resulting in a lack of involvement of fathers in the rearing and development of children. Dominici concludes there is a social need to reconnect children and fathers and states, “for the future of the United States and the future of our children, Congress, States, and local communities should assist parents to become more actively involved in their children's lives.
This concept holds true for the general population including children of divorce, separation and the unmarried. A variety of studies and reports support the need to enhance the “family” connection between divorced, separated or unmarried fathers and their children. Studies report that 85 percent of all children that exhibit behavior disorders, 71 percent of all high school dropouts and 85 percent of all youths sitting in prison come from fatherless homes. This is not to say that children in mother-only homes will become a part of these statistics, however, without the active involvement of the father too, the risk increases. On the positive side, studies report that children desire a continuing relationship with their fathers and that loss of regular contact with fathers is the main complaint about divorce voiced by children and should not be taken lightly. Studies also note that increased amount of contact between a father and child increases the likelihood of child support payment, improved relationship with the mother, improved academic achievement, improved sex-role adjustment, and improved psychosocial adjustment for children.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, through their Fatherhood Initiative, the Ad Council's campaign to increase a father's time with their children - promoting it as the greatest gift fathers can give to their children, and the specified reason for this grant, recognize the significant risk of social irresponsibility in children and young adults as a result of the lack of father presence in the home. A father who is typically the non-custodial parent in a divorce, separated or unmarried situation. Today, there are more than 20 million non-custodial fathers (90%) and 2 million non-custodial mothers (10%).
Studies have shown that the amount of contact non-residential fathers have with their children diminishes over time following separation or divorce. In a well-prepared report for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996, Nord and Zill suggest a number of reasons including lack of opportunity or desire to take responsibility for their children, social rules of father disengagement, lack of skills and knowledge regarding father responsibilities, societal ambivalence toward fatherhood, geographic mobility, remarriage of either parent, inability to establish a workable childrearing arrangement with the former spouse, lack of access due to actions of the former spouse, psychological pain at not being able to see their children in the same manner as before which causes fathers to remove themselves entirely to reduce the pain, inadequate financial resources, feeling the pain of the artificial nature of visitation, diminished parenting role, unequal custody power - perceived or real, and litigation.
Nord and Zill make several recommendations to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to address the needs of divorcing families: 1) Educate parents on the developmental needs of children, the potential difficulties that they will face from family disruption or turmoil, and steps that could ease those difficulties, importance of fathers and consequences of divorce for children; 2) Ensure that judges who preside over family courts receive training in the developmental needs of children; 3) Reduce, to the extent possible, changes in the children's lives, at least in the immediate post-divorce or separation period; 4) Encourage mediation and conflict reduction during the divorce process; 5) Inform parents about the potentially harmful effects of conflict for their children; 6) Support research which can provide more information about how to reduce stress of the parents and children;
7) Ensure that service providers and social workers are attuned to the potentially high levels of stress that single parents feel and that they seek ways to alleviate those stresses; 8) Enable fathers to have a more active post-divorce role; 9) Allow fathers to have a meaningful role in their children's lives where they can shoulder some of the responsibility of raising the child; 10) Enable non-custodial parents to have some control over the child's life.
These recommendations are echoed in the 1996 Report of the U.S. Commission on Child and Family Welfare, “Parenting Our Children: In the Best Interest of the Nation which expanded policy recommendations to include: 1) Replace the terms custody and visitation with more family friendly terms; 2) Provide intake and referral services that are appropriate to the individual needs of separating, divorcing and unmarried parents; 3) Require parents to attend orientation and education programs to help them understand court processes and the effect that their decisions will have on their lives and the lives of their children; 4) Require parents living apart to develop parenting plans that set forth parental decision-making, parenting time, and residential arrangements for the children; 5) Require parents who have not agreed on a parenting plan to try to resolve their differences through mediation, rather than litigation and court mandates. Additionally, Commission member John Guidubaldi recommended in his Minority Report to the U.S. Commission on Child and Family Welfare that a new policy be enacted regarding the rebuttable presumption of shared parenting/joint custody.
There is substantial research to support the concept of equal shared parenting - considered equal joint physical and legal custody. This custodial practice has significant benefit for children, enhances the parenting role for both the father and mothers, and addresses many of the critical recommendations above. In addition, equal shared parenting promotes true gender equality, significantly reduces conflict in court, eliminates the concept of “visitor” and “visitation”, reduces the incentive to litigate, and reduces child access problems. Obviously, equal shared parenting is not intended for parents who have been abusive or have a history of substance abuse or psychological difficulties that is harmful to their children or former spouse. Such cases, however, are not typical.
According to the Children Right's Council, equal shared parenting now accounts for more than 20% of post-divorce living arrangements for children. In some states, it has become the predominant form of child custody after divorce. Children in shared parenting arrangements were found to have better adjustment on measures of depression, deviance, school effort and school grades (Buchanan, 1996). Glover and Steele (1989) noted that a two-parent family is better even if parents are divorced and living apart. Research also suggests that children benefit when they have two highly involved parents instead of just one (Lamb, 1986).
Purpose. The primary purpose of this application is to enhance a strong parent-child relationship during and after divorce, separation or nonmarriage and to encourage a team approach to responsible parenting. This proposal addresses several recommendations cited above in order to benefit the children of divorced, separated and unmarried families and to minimize the risk of immediate and long-term adverse consequences from this substantial family disruption. It is intended to promote the “best interest of the child” doctrine while preserving the dignity and necessity of the “family system”.
Organization. The South Dakota Coalition for Shared Parenting is a non-profit South Dakota Corporation established in January, 2000 with the belief that equal, shared parenting time or joint physical custody is the optimal custody situation and unless contraindicated, will enhance the parents ability to have a positive effect on the emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being of their child(ren). The SDCSP has been formed to carry out a number of activities including: 1) the development and/or provision of competent and research-based services (i.e. support groups, parent education program, mediation services, counseling services, development of parenting plans, etc. to families of separation, divorce, and non-marriage at a reduced or no cost; 2) the development and implementation of a parenting education course that can be used state-wide to address responsible shared parenting, expectations for children, involvement with children, etc; and 3) the provision of technical assistance and information, based upon research to the South Dakota Judicial System, the South Dakota State Legislature, attorneys, parents and other relevant parties that will increase the use of responsible and equal shared parenting, fair and sensitive treatment, use of collaborative parenting and cooperative problem solving for all family members of separation, divorce or non-marriage.
Buchanan, C., Maccoby, and Dornbusch (1996). Adolescents After Divorce, Harvard University Press.
Children's Rights Council (1997). Child Custody, Divorced Families. U.S. Census Current Population Survey, National Center for Health Statistics.
Grover, R. and Steele, C. (1989). Comparing the Effects on the Child of Post-divorce Parenting Arrangements. Journal of Divorce, Vol. 12, No. 2-3.
Guidubaldi, J. (1996). Minority Report and Policy Recommendations of the United States Commission on Child & Family Welfare.
Lamb, M., editor. 1986. The Father's Role: Applied Perspectives. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Nord, C.W. and Zill, N. (1996). Non-Custodial Parents' Participation in Their Children's Lives: Evidence from the Survey of Income and Program Participation. Vol II: Synthesis of Literature. Prepared for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Parenting Our Children: In the Best Interest of the Nation. Report of the U. S. Commission on Child and Family Welfare (1996) Mary Cathcart, Chair.