Monday, January 21, 2013

How can we help children?

As Director of the Wyoming Department of Family Services, I was often asked, “What is the one thing you would change to strengthen families?” My answer, “Create more responsible young men for women to marry.”

Wyoming has a high divorce rate. It exceeds the already unacceptably high national rate by almost one-third. The impact falls most heavily on the mother left behind with her children. Census Bureau data show when a Wyoming father leaves behind a wife and young children, more than half of those single-parent homes survive in poverty.

There are innumerable ideas for getting young men to “man-up.” From fathers to brothers, uncles, grandfathers and just concerned neighbors, men need to become mentors. But young women can’t wait for that glacier to move. They must be given the tools to take responsibility for their own lives now. Helpful strategies begin with the decision that no man in your life is better than an irresponsible one.

An unique example of how young women can make an informed, more than romantic choice, is the growing trend of using credit scores to decide whether to pursue a relationship. Credit scores are the tools banks and others use to determine whether someone is financially responsible, arguably one of the most critical qualities for a good mate.

According to FICO, one credit score source, this metric is the best way to determine whether a person practices “consistently responsible financial behavior.” That quality says more about a potential mate than that he pays his bills on time. It says he maintains employment, spends and saves wisely, and that he cares about his responsibilities to family and others in the community.
Manisha Thakor, founder and chief executive of MoneyZen Wealth Management, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that credit scores are “a shorthand way to get a sense of someone’s financial past the same way an S.T.D. tests give some information about a person’s sexual past.”
The other threat young women (and sometimes men) face when inviting someone into a relationship is violence. Statistics show that when children are most viciously abused, it’s more common the abuser is a boyfriend or subsequent spouse, not the biological father. There seems to be an almost primal instinct among some men to do harm to the offspring of another male. Unless mothers are careful when they invite another man into their home, their children can be put at serious risk.
But unlike credit scores, there’s no place to go for answers to the question of whether someone is potentially violent. She can and should check the sex offender registry. If she finds her potential mate’s name there, it should be a deal breaker, no questions asked.
Nevertheless, many violent suitors never commit the kind of crimes that land them on that list. Domestic violence is an example. Abusers pose an unacceptable risk, not only for their partners but also their partner’s children, who are often collateral damage. Even when the children are not the physical target, those exposed to family violence are harmed. They are more likely to develop social, emotional, psychological and or behavioral problems than those who are not.
How is anyone to know whether the person they invite into the lives of their children is potentially harmful or even deadly? Asking the person seldom produces the truth. Even when you’ve heard the rumors, the accused often rationalizes the incidents, absolving him or her from any responsibility.
This is where government can help. The legislature should create a domestic violence registry. Serial abusers of family members are arguably a greater threat to the future women or men and children in their lives than are many of those who find themselves on the sex offender list. There should be an official, accessible list of those who have been convicted of domestic violence, men and women alike.
If our culture has a problem turning out responsible men, it should at the least help women identify those who should, at all costs, be avoided.

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